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'iTiis book sliould li( K'tTiniMi oti or ili< ^iatr last loai ke el (aJow. 













Author of Sex and the Love Lift 
The Caveman Within Us, etc. 




Circle Books is a series published by 
The Blakiston Company, 1012 Walnut St., Philadclphit 5, Pa. 





The Far-reaching Import of Courtship i 

A Definition of Marriage ... 2 

Origin of the Won! “Wedding” .... 4 

The Antiquity of Marriage .... 5 

The Trend to Monogamy 7 

The Marriage Ceremonial 9 

Marriage as a. Sacrament ii 


I. Curious Mating Customs 

A Brother-in-Law Complex 14 

The Couvade .... 15 

Dowry Earned by Prostitution ... 16 

Artificial Defloration of Marriageable Girls 17 
The Match-maker ... 18 

11. Modern Survivals of Ancient Customs 

Echoes from the .Past 23 

Tokens of Engagement 25 

The Diamond Ring 26 

The Wedding Ring 27 

The Ring Finger ... 29 





Bridal Customs 30 

The Bridal Veil 32 

The Bridesmaids 33 

The Bridegroom and His Traditions • • 35 

Miscellaneous Wedding Customs .... 36 

Bridal Flowers 37 

The Symbolism of Rice 39 

Throwing the Shoe 42 

The Wedding Canopy 43 

Gifts in Courtship and Marriage .^ . . . 44 

Wedding Superstitions that Linger ... 46 

The Wedding Cake 48 

The Honeymoon 49 

The Shivaree . . 50 

Wedding Anniversaries 51 

III. Kissing Customs 

Origin of the Kiss 53 

A Pledge of Love 55 

The Kiss as a Sacred Pledge 58 

The Olfactory, or Smell-Kiss .... 59 

The Erotic Significance of the Kiss ... 61 

The Love-Bite 62 

Kissing as a Pastime 63 

The Platonic Kiss 65 

Kissing by Correspondence 66 

rV. Bundung 

A Quaint Custom of Courtship .... 67 

Tarrying 73 

Bundling in Other Lands 74 



V. Primitive Marriage Practices 


Group Marriage 

The Consanguineous Family .... 
Custom of Exchanging Wives .... 
Magical Significance of Rites . . . 

Licentiousness at Certain Feasts . 

Tree Marriage 

Circumcision as a Prerequisite of Marriage 
Suttee .... 

The Purdah 

Family Life Among the Simians . . . 

VI. Primitive Religious Marital Ideas 

Marriage and the Great Religions . 
Marriage Among the Ancient Hebrews . 
Marriage Among the Hindu Cults . . 

Temple Prostitution 

The Levirate . 

Primitive Christian View of Marriage 
The Mohammedan Reaction to Asceticism 

VII. Marriage Taboos 

Meaning of the Sex Taboo .... 

Taboo on Women 

Taboo of Childbed 

Evil Omen of the Stillborn 

The Taboo of Incest 



Food Taboos 




















1 16 





CHAFnR page 

Taboo of Widow Marriage 128 

Deification of Woman . .... 130 

Dedication of Virgins to Divinities . . . 131 

VIIL Chastity 

Chastity a Widely Esteemed Concept . . . 134 

Modesty Considered a Consequence of Fear . 135 

Modesty as Allurement 139 

The Magical Virtue of Chastity .... 140 

Submitting Proof of Virginity 143 

Masculine Chastity 143 

Girdles of Chastity 149 

Infibulation to Insure Virginity .... 153 

White for Purity 153 

IX, Child Marriage 

Infant Betrothal 154 

Child Marriage in India 158 

Antiquity of Child Marriage 162 

Child Marriage in Europe 166 

The Tragedy of Infanticide 169 

X. Matriarchy, or the Mother-Family 

The Matriarchate ... 173 

The Maternal Family — ^Matrilocal Marriage . 175 

The Iroquois Matriarchate . .... 180 

Other Examples of the Matriarchate ... 185 

Supremacy of the Hemitic Women ... 190 
The Passing of the Age of Mother-Right . . 192 

XI. Patriarchy, or the Father-Family 

The Rise of Patriarchal Rule 194 

Old Russia the Last Patriarchy 198 



Patriarchy in Ancient Greece .... 201 

The Roman Patriarchy 204 

The Paternal Power 208 

“Right of the First Night” 210 

Passing of the Patriarchal Order 21 1 

XII. Multiple Marriage 

Polygamy 213 

Polygyny ... 214 

Primitive Polygyny 216 

Polygyny in Societies Favorable to Woman 220 

Sororate — ^Thc Custom of Marrying Sisters 221 

Restrictions Regarding Cousin-Marriages 225 

Sexual Communism ... 226 

Polyandry 229 

Concubinage 233 

The Harem 234 

XIII. Marriage by Capture 

Taking Wife by Force 238 

Marriage by Rape 240 

Captured Wife an Evidence of Valor . . 244 

Mock Resistance as a Survival of Marriage by 
Capture . . 246 

Marriage by Elopement . .... 252 

Survivals of Marriage by Capture ... 255 

XIV. Marriage by Purchase 

Marriage by Consideration ... 257 

Paying the Bride-Price on the Installment 
Plan ... 263 

Marriage bv Exchange . . 265 




Marriage by Service 266 

Bride-Price Payable to the Bride .... 272 

The Morning Gift 274 

The Dowry 274 

XV. Trial Mamiage 

Ancient Forms of Trial Marriage .... 279 
Trial Marriage Among Primitives . . . .281 

Trial Marriage in Europe 287 

The Custom of Trial Nights 288 

Handfasting a Scottish Practice .... 290 
Companionate Marriage 294 

XVI. Terminus of Marriage 

Antiquity of Divorce 296 

Divorce Among Primitives 298 

Divorce Among the Mohammedans . . . 300 

Divorce in Ancient Civilization .... 302 

Divorce in the Middle Ages 306 

Divorce Laws in England 307 

The Trend of Liberal Divorce Legislation 308 

XVII. Romantic Marriage 

Love Enters Marriage 310 

Early Love Stories Belonged to Folklore 312 
The Development of Conjugal Affection 313 

Index 317 







Thk Far-reaching Import of Courtship. — Courtship, with 
its connotations of romance and love, with its glamorous ap- 
peal to the mind of youth — and those not so young — ^with its 
alluring promise of fulfilment of the heart’s desires, is an in- 
triguing experience in nearly every life; possibly, in every nor- 
mal life that has fully expressed itself. 

Its influence is so far-reaching, and its presence as a social 
institution is so taken for granted, that we do not begin to re- 
alize the extent of its ramifications until we stop and take 
account of some of its tendencies. 

Every newspaper has whole pages — and Sunday editions 
whole sections — devoted to its activities, highlights and cul- 
minations. It has been perhaps the theme of more novels, 
stories and poems than any other inspiration, as it is love in its 
supreme moment. 

The boy meets girl motif is the mainstay of stage and screen. 
Likewise, on the stage of life it is an ever-present drama in our 
midst — ^among the young people in our own homes, in the 
neighborhood, in the parks, on the street, in the automobile, 
wherever people live, move or congregate. Objectively, we are 
often amused by its comic aspects, and sometimes shocked by 
its tragic implications. 

Business and industry profit by its whims, necessities and 

2 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

demands. The shops of fashion, jewelry, confections, flowers, 
and many other products cater to its needs. To what extent the 
mighty cosmetic and beautifying industries are stimulated by 
its dynamic impulse, we can only hazard a guess. 

But courtship was not always so! While man has always 
wooed and won the woman of his choice, the method of woo- 
ing has varied as greatly as the conditions of primordial life 
have varied from our own. Different ages of time, different 
races of people, different periods of development, have pro- 
duced a multiplicity of customs which have governed the 
mating of man and woman. 

A Definition of Marriage. — This great urge has had as its 
impetus the bringing together of the couple in sexual union. 
With it ultimately came the establishment of marriage, of vary- 
ing periods of duration, depending upon the conditions which 
determined the arrangement, the most important of which has 
been the raising of children. 

The situation as gleaned by the anthropologists — those tire- 
less students of the history of mankind — ^is of course too com- 
plex to be related in a few pages. In primitive life, precise and 
orderly forms of mating could scarcely be expected, nor did 
they exist. There have been countless sorts of variations and 
many contradictions. 

According to the great authority on the subject. Professor 
Edward Westermarck . author of The History of Human 
Marriage, human beings have always lived in what may be 
broadly described as a state of marriage. 'Not in the definitely 
formulated sense that we now know this institution, but in a 
recognizable and definable form. 

'Westermarck thus defines marriage as a relation of one or 
more men to one or more women which is recognized by cus- 
tom or law and involves certain rights and duties both in the 



case of the parties entering the union and in the case of the 
children born of it. 

Continuing, Westermarck says that marriage always implies 
the right of sexiial intercourse; society holds such intercourse 
allowable in the case of the husband and wife'J^and, generally 
speaking, even regards it as their duty to gratify in some meas- 
ure the other partner’s desire. But the right to sexual inter- 
course is not necessarily exclusive. He adds, as an alternative 
definition: a more or less durable association between male 
and female lasting beyond the mere act of propagation till 
after the birth of the offspring. 

^n support of this theory, it is argued that marriage has de- 
veloped out of primordial habit — the habit of a man and a 
woman (or several women) to live together, to have sexual 
relations with one another, and to rear their offspring in com- 
mon. The man became the protector and supporter of the 
family, the woman his helpmate and the nurse of their chil- 
dren. This habit in time became sanctioned by custom, and 
eventually by law, and thus was transformed into a social insti- 
tution. . 

It is shown that many of the higher animals have a family life 
analogous to human marriage in its primitive form. Indeed, it 
has been observed that the highest form of paired mating — ^not 
excluding man — ^is to be found among many species of birds. 

Among the great majority of birds, the male and female 
keep together even after the breeding season, and in a great 
many species the parental instinct has reached a high degree 
of intensity on the father’s side as well as on the mother’s. So 
true is this that Brehm, the naturalist, has remarked that “real 
marriage can be found only among birds.” 

So the terms “marriage” and “family” are used to describe 
a definite human and sub-human relationship, and our modern 

4 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

marriage and family are a development of this process which 
began at a very primitive level of life. 

Comparatively early in its development marriage became an 
economic institution, affecting the proprietaly rights of the 

Among certain peoples, as we shall see in later chapters, 
plurality of wives^is legally permissible; among others, more 
primitive, the marriage is a loose and temporary union, lasting 
litde beyond the birth of the offspring. This situation accounts 
for Westermarck’s qualifying definition. 

On the other hand, higher in the social or4er, we find an 
established condition wherein marriage means something 
more than sexual congress. In this order man and wife main- 
tain a household together. They may have a community of 
goods. There is a common'interest and responsibility in the 
care of the children. It is upon this basis that there has devel- 
oped the system of monogamous marriage now prevalent 
throughout most of the modern world. 

Origin of the Word “Wedding”. — When we look into the 
origin of certain words we get an intimation of the develop- 
ment or transformation of the system described by the word 
in question. This is characteristically true of the word “wed- 
ding”. I t derives from th e barbaric stage, of wife purchase 
through which marriajge p assed . The wed was the purchase 
money or its equivalent, hor ses, cattle or other property, which 
the groom gave to the fa th er to seal the transaction, 

Tit the early days of the Anglo-Saxons children were often 
betrothed by the parents, the bridegroom’s pledge of marriage 
being accompanied by a security, or wed, furnished by the 
father of the groom. Thus originated the term wedding, or 
pledging the troth of the bride to the man who secured her 
by purchase. 



It is said that traces of the ancient legal procedure connected 
with wife purchase remained in England as late as the middle 
of the sixteenth century. In France, even until the time of Louis 
XVI, it was the custom to pay down thirteen deniers upon 
conclusion of a marriage contract. This latter practice was 
doubtless merely a symbolic relic of the time when marriage 
was an outright cash transaction. 

The ANTiQurry of Makriage. — ^As we have already seen, 
marriage appears to have had its origin at the very dawn of 
human society, perhaps being a continuation of an analogous 
relationship in subhuman life. There are, however, different 
schools of thought on this subject, as we shall presently see. 

Among many species of the animal kingdom, the male and 
female remain together not only during the pairing season, 
but until after the birth of the offspring. It seems reasonable to 
assume that they were induced to do so by an instinct which 
had been acquired through the process of natural selection. 
This tendency preserved the next generation, and thereby per- 
petuated the species. 

Confirmation of this theory is found in the fact that in such 
cases the male not only stays with the female and young, but 
also takes care of them. Prince Peter Kropotkin, the great Rus- 
sian naturalist, cites nvunerous instances of devotion, loyaky 
and self-sacrifice among the denizens of the animal world in 
the wild stage that would be a credit to humanity at its best. 

Among mammals the young are dependent for a consider- 
able time upon the mother, who consequently is concerned for 
their welfare, attending to them with much affection. While in 
most cases the relations between the sexes are restricted to the 
pairing season, there are however certain species in which they 
are of a more permanent character, and the male acts as 
guardian of the family. 

6 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

The family consisting of parents and children prevails 
among the lowest savages, as well as among the most civilized 
races of men. It may therefore be assumed that the factors 
which led to marital and parental relations among the higher 
animals, about which we know, also operated among our earli- 
est human and nearest subhuman ancestors. 

Furthermore, aj the period of infancy among human beings 
has always been comparatively long, and the number of chil- 
dren very small, as well as the hazards of primitive life very 
great, a family relationship with joint parental protection was 
quite a necessary factor for the continuation jof existence of 
human life in its early stages. 

That the functions of the father and husband are not merely 
sexual and procreative, but involve the duties of supporting 
and protecting the wife ancf'children, is confirmed by an array 
of facts relating to peoples in all parts of the world and in all 
stages of civilization. 

Many savages do not permit a man to marry until he has 
given satisfactory proof of his ability to fulfil these duties. 
Marriage and the protection of the family are thus intimately 
connected, even in primitive life. 

Among some peoples, true married life does not begin for 
couples who are formally married, or marriage docs not be- 
come final, until a child is born or there is evidence of preg- 
nancy. In other cases, sexual relations, even when not entered 
into with the view to marriage, are followed by the obligation 
to marry when pregnancy or the birth of a child results. 

These facts led Westermarck to conclude that marriage is 
rooted in the family, rather than the family in marriage. 

Some authorities of note, such as Morgan, Lubbock, Mc- 
Lennan, Bachofen, Bastian and others, disagree with this 
premise, and are convinced that man lived at first in a state of 



promiscuity. This implies that the earliest men and women 
lived together indiscriminately, with no bond to unite them 
except the fact that they lived together. 

In the opinion of Iwan Bloch, whoever knows the nature of 
the human impulse has learned how the race developed, and 
whoever has studied the conditions still existing in the sexual 
field among primitive races and among modern civilized races, 
can have no doubt that a condition of sexual promiscuity pre- 
vailed in the beginning of human development. 

Of course, we have no proof of who was right about the 
ways of cohabitation in the dim, distant twilight of human life. 
Perhaps even primitive life was complicated enough to afiord 
some basis for both hypotheses. Again, it may be largely a 
matter of interpretation and emphasis. 

We are living today in a country in which monogamy is the 
legally and socially accepted standard of the marital relation- 
ship, to which the great majority conform. But if some sociolo- 
gist thousands of years hence should attempt to determine our 
prevailing sexual relationship, say by referring to the files of 
the tabloid newspapers or certain literature of this period, he 
might be justified in concluding that twentieth-century Amer- 
ica was a cavalcade of unbridled licentiousness and promis- 

The Trend to Monogamy. — Regardless of the prevailing 
types of the family relationship at earlier periods of human 
society, and notwithstanding the continuation of the multiple 
marriage in many parts of the world, which in some areas 
exists to this day, there nevertheless developed a definite trend 
to monogamy. 

What brought about this change ? In the first place, with the 
evolution of society from a comparatively simple to a more 

8 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

complex structure, or organism, plurality of wives led to in- 
creasing complications and conflicts. As society became more 
complex, so too the individuals responded to the environ- 
mental changes. The minds of men and women developed 
from experience, and began to question the values of old 
practices — ^although ancient traditions always die hard. 

Furthermore, yvith increased knowledge and sharpened in- 
telligence, there were emotional reverberations of far-reaching 
consequence. Certainly jealousy, among other of the ele- 
mentary emotions, must have become increasingly important 
at some stage of human development, and with greater oppor- 
tunity for the unfoldment of this primordial impulse, multiple 
marriage became increasingly difficult. 

The complications relative to numerous children from sev- 
eral wives also in time became a serious problem as society 
developed from a pastoral to a more advanced stage. In a 
purely pastoral society, several wives and many children would 
be an asset as it would assure many hands to perform the 
arduous drudgery required in that form of economy. There 
was then little time to dwell upon personal considerations, and 
no energy left to expend itself or explode in the emotional 
channels of jealousy. 

With the next step in the social organization leading into 
primitive commerce and the crafts, a smaller unit of family 
life became inevitable. There was, of course, no abrupt transi- 
tion from polygamy to monogamy, but the trend became 
marked, even though plural wives continued as a survival in 
the new era, for those who were willing to pay the price— in 
nerve strain as well as in wealth — ^for the luxury. 

As monogamy gained a foothold, women sensed the advan- 
tages and were hardly willing to become the second wife to a 
man already married, or her parents would be reluctant to 

Introduction ^ 

compel her to marry such a man, unless some unusual advan- 
tages, economic or social, were gained thereby. 

The smaller home of the post-pastoral period made it in- 
creasingly impractical to raise two or more broods of children 
from the several wives under one roof, and a practical adjust- 
ment of this matter was tried by providing each wife with a 
separate dwelling. This required much extra expense, so that 
polygamy became a prohibitive luxury to all men except the 
very wealthy. 

Westermarck states that the custom of giving a separate 
home to each wife was intended to prevent quarrels and fights, 
but even when this end was achieved — ^which was not always 
the case — ^female jealousy is an obstacle to the practice of 

When monogamy rose into the prevalent status of family 
life, it became sanctioned by custom, law and morals, and 
therefore in the Western World any open violation of this 
accepted code of marital life is usually subject to penalty. 

The Marriage Ceremonial. — Marriage has progressed 
through three general stages in its evolutionary development. 
Each of them has contributed its share, which is readily iden- 
tifiable, to the ceremony of modern marriage. 

Marriage through force, or by capture (which will be the 
subject of a subsequent chapter) was the first important stage. 
It was literally stealing and carrying off a desirable woman, 
usuallyof another tribe, and making her the wife of the captor. 

Marriage through contract or purchase succeeded marriage 
by capture. One stage gradually overlapped upon the other. It is 
probable, as tribal strength and solidarity increased, that more 
and more effort was made to avenge the women stolen from 
the group. A raid was made against the tribe which held the 
woman captive, and to avoid a disastrous war compensation 

10 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

was offered. From this, the idea arose of arranging compensa- 
tion beforehand, or, more prosaically, buying the bride. 

“Giving the bride away,” in the modern marriage ceremony, 
is a symbolic survival of the time when the bride was really 
sold. The bride’s veil is a modified survival of the days when 
she was literally shrouded from head to foot. The “best man” 
is the modern counterpart of the fellow-warrior who assisted 
the would-be bridegroom to carry off the bride. The honey- 
moon symbolizes the period during which the bridegroom 
found it necessary to hide away with his prize until her family 
or kinsmen grew tired of searching for her. Carrying the bride 
over the hearth, and other playful suggestions of force in mod- 
ern marriage, are relics of the time when force was used in its 
pristine form. 

The next great stage is marriage through mutual love, which 
has been an undying theme of romantic poets and singers 
down through the centuries since the first attempt was made 
to separate sordidness from the sexual relationship. Although 
the process has not yet been completed at this late date, that 
does not alter the fact that love came upon the scene at a com- 
paratively early period in the development of man’s psycho- 
intellectual life as distinguished from his immensely longer 
biological background as a human being. 

It is from this long history of human marriage that have been 
drawn the numerous elements that make up the formalities of 
the marriage ceremony. They vary in many lands and among 
peoples of different social traditions, but through most of them 
rUn the thread of a common heritage based on the patterns of 
marriage in the past, even the very distant, long forgotten past. 

Marriage denotes a great and fundamental change in the 
way of life of the individuals concerned. It means leaving the 
hearthstone or protection of the parents, and venturing upon 

Introduction ii 

a new experience, a new existence as the potential progenitors 
of a new generation. 

Even the primitive mind saw the importance of the step, 
and surrounded the event with rites and ceremonies considered 
appropriate for the occasion. Among those peoples obsessed 
with magic or other weird superstitions, marriage received its 
full share of magical and superstitious implications. As it was 
associated with, or closely followed the advent of puberty 
among many groups, its culmination in the breaking down of 
the sexual taboo was a subject for solemn rites essential to ap- 
pease the tribal deities. It was perhaps the most highly drama- 
tized event in primitive life where there existed a traditional 
background of any note. 

In our modern world, besides the legal aspects of the cere- 
mony that are indispensable for the conclusion of a valid mar- 
riage, we find the conventional rites peculiarly paralleling the 
practices of the past, making due allowance for the difference 
in culture, and the symbolization of forms that once had literal 
meaning. That these survivals of the past are not considered 
empty formalities is evidenced by the fact that the modern 
bride rarely chooses to dispense with them. When they are 
now disperised with, in the case of impromptu marriages or 
elopements, it is usually a matter of expediency rather than 
choice. Such is the influence of tradition upon the human mind. 

Marriage as a Sacrament. — In the ages preceding Christi- 
anity, after marriage had been elevated to the status of a cere- 
mony, it may have been a solemn religious ordinance or a 
purely civil contract. 

Marriage customs, like all others, change very slowly, and it 
was not until the Council of Trent, in the middle of the six- 
teenth century, that the Roman canon was drastically revised. 
It was then decreed that a Catholic marriage, to be valid, must 

12 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

be celebrated by a priest of the parish, or by some other priest 
delegated by him for the purpose, in the presence of two or 
three witnesses. 

Up to the time of the Council of Trent, the marriage cere- 
mony was one which the couple themselves could perform, 
and the clandestine, unconsecrated marriage was completely 
valid. Thus, for ppward of the first fifteen hundred years of 
Christianity — or for three-quarters of the entire Christian era — 
it was the custom for most Christian couples entering mar- 
riage, simply to ask the blessing of the priest. Even this was not 
absolutely necessary to make the tie valid in the eyes of Church 
and State. 

There were few other ceremonials connected with marriage, 
especially in the first centuries, as the primitive Christians were 
for the most part a humble people, often hunted or persecuted 
by their pagan contemporaries, and had little time for formali- 
ties. Furthermore, the founders of Christianity did not pre- 
scribe any particular ceremonies in connection with marriage. 

Gradually, however, as Christianity came into ascendancy, 
and as it became accepted more and more as the state religion, 
the religious phase of marriage became increasingly empha- 
sized. In medieval times, the priest was called in to bless the 
marriage bed, a custom that still prevails in many European 
coimtrics. The object of this ceremony was partly to bestow 
upon the couple a long life, progeny and other desirable things, 
but more especially to protect them against eviljnfluences, as 
the Latin formula spoken on the occasion indicated. 

The practice of religious marriage, performed in the church, 
or by a clergyman in the home, gradually became general. It 
was made obligatory in 1563 by the Council of Trent. 

Luther’s opinion that all matrimonial affairs should come 
under civil jurisdiction, and not that of the Church, was not 



accepted in the main by the legislators of the Protestant coun- 
tries. Marriage continued to be regarded as a divine institution, 
and the sacerdotal nuptials became obligatory on Protestants 
and Cathohcs alike. 

The French Revolution brought about the first change in 
this respect. The Constitution of September 1791 made civil 
marriage mandatory, although this could be supplemented by 
a sacerdotal benediction, if the parties so desired. A religious 
ceremony alone, however, would not be a valid marriage. 

Civil marriage eventually became the accepted legal form in 
most European countries, although in some of them, as in die 
United States, the parties may choose either the civil or reli- 
gious rite, either being equally valid under the law. Thus the 
state became an interested party in the marriage contract. 
Even though a clergyman officiates at the ceremony, as in the 
United States, a license must be secured from the city or other 
political subdivision of the government, and in an ever increas- 
ing nmnber of states a medical examination of the contracting 
parties has been made obligatory by legislative enactment. 
Furthermore, a prescribed lapse of time between the issuance 
of the license and the performance of the marriage is often 
required to prevent too hasty or rash marriages. 

Governmental supervision of marriage serves several pur- 
poses. It tends to reduce the possibility of force or fraud. It is 
intended to prevent polygamous unions and those that may be 
considered incestuous. In states where the racial question is an 
acute problem, miscegenation through marriage is usually pro- 
hibited by law. The control of the state over marriage also 
assures more accurate and complete vital statistics, which are 
becoming increasingly important in our complex civilization. 


Curious Mating Customs 


A Brothir-in-Law Complex.— The marriage customs of the 
Southern Slavs and people of the Balkan peninsula take on 
some peculiar forms. Young married vpomen enter into a very 
intimate relation with their bride attendants, two of whom 
attend a bride on her wedding day. The bride is a very young 
girl, and in accordance witbjthe local custom she is given to a 
man she has never seen before, and, by the logic of the circum- 
stances, does not like and seems determined never to like. 

She comes into a strange house where it is incumbent upon 
her for the rest of her life, or their lives, to show her parents-in- 
law the greatest humility and submission. This is an in-law 
situation that is not altogether unique, as it prevails to a greater 
or lesser extent in many parts of the orient and elsewhere. 

To make her position more difficult, she is forbidden by 
custom to approach her husband freely. She seems ashamed 
of her marital relation, and thinks it indecent to address her 
husband in public, even after she is the mother of his children. 
Likewise, he remains a stranger to her, and their relationship 
is limited to the sexual sphere, without any evidence or pre- 
tense of affection. Even in death, it would be a shame for a 
woman to mourn for her husband. 

As nature is said to abhor a vacuum, she is however not 
without some consoling attentions. She may converse freely 

Curious Mating Customs 15 

with her husband’s brothers, who were her bride attendants. 
The elder one, if he is married — which means that he shows 
no interest in his wife — may become her best friend. She also 
remains deeply attached to her own brothers. 

The Albanian who has been away on a journey will not 
return with a present for his wife. He will reserve this token 
for the wife of his eldest brother. 

In former times, among these peoples, it was considered im- 
proper for the groom to start conjugal life immediately after 
marriage. The bride attendants, brothers of the groom, spent 
the first night by the side of the bride. Custom demanded that 
the groom show reluctance. A Serbian woman is looked down 
upon if she becomes a mother within a year after marriage. 

The Couvade. — K most peculiar custom that has existed 
among peoples in various parts of the world is the couvade. 
This provides that at the time of childbirth, the husband takes 
to his bed and simulates the pains that the wife actually under- 
goes. Following the birth of the child, he keeps to his bed and 
receives all the attentions commonly bestowed upon the 

The term is derived from the French verb, comer, to brood, 
to hatch, and was first used by Sir E. B. Taylor. 

While the custom has tended to disappear with the advance 
of civilization, it has prevailed from time immemorial down 
to comparatively recent years. Writers as remote as Plutarch 
have described the man imitating the cries of the woman in 
travail. The practice has been reported from various regions 
of the White Nile, India, Japan and Chinese Turkestan. Butler 
had it in mind vdien he wrote: 

For the Chinese go to bed 
And lic'in, in their ladies* <Jtcad. 

i6 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

The couvade has also been described by explorers and mis- 
sionaries among some of the aborigines of North, Central and 
South America. It appears in Celtic legend, and is bound up in 
certain elements of witchcraft, with the forceful transference 
of pain to the father by nurse or midwife, as noted in Scotland 
and Ireland. 

The rite is sai<} to be practiced still by the West Indian 
Caribs, in the Pearl Islands, in the Gulf of Panama, and by a 
number of South American tribes. 

Various reasons have been ascribed to account for the origin 
of the custom, one of the most logical being that it is an ex- 
pression of the physical bond between father and offspring, 
emulating in a symbolic manner the actual physical bond be- 
tween mother and child. Symbolism and magic have a place 
of tremendous importance in primitive life, and the couvade 
undoubtedly comes within this sphere. 

Dowry Earned by Prostitution. — ^Among various peoples it 
has been considered proper for a young woman to earn her 
dowry by prostitution. Some cases doubtless were prompted 
by an economic motive, the poverty of the family, but more 
usually the reason was superstitious. Either a sacrifice to the 
divinity of love and fertility was intended, or it was considered 
that evil spirits could be driven away from the newly wedded 
couple in this way, as the custom was usually a preliminary to 
the woman’s prospective marriage. 

This practice prevailed among certain Algerian tribes, and 
anciently among the Phoenicians, Cyprians, Lydians and 
Etruscans. In the New World, it has been described among the 
Natchez of Louisiana, and the aborigines of Nicaragua and 

There is undoubtedly some connection between this institu- 
tion and an earlier age when freer sexual relationships gen- 

Curious Mating Customs 17 

erally existed. It has been especially found among races or in 
regions where forms of defloration by somebody other than the 
husband have been prevalent. The Testament of Judah remarks 
that “it was a law of Amorites that she who was about to marry 
should sit in fornication seven days by the gate.” 

Customs such as these seem quite inexplicable to the conven- 
tional modern mind, and indeed even the most profound 
writers on the subject seem hardly to reveal much light, aside 
from presenting the evidence. The fact is, of course, that mod- 
ern investigators have been able to understand only very 
imperfectly the workings of the primitive mind. 

We know that magic is very important to the savage and 
the barbarian, and that the commands and taboos of a religious 
nature which have been transmitted from previous genera- 
tions are accepted and obeyed without inquiring into the rea- 
sons why. 

Artificial Defloration of Marriageable Girls. — Another 
custom having a bearing on the foregoing, or possibly derived 
from similar magical sources, is that whereby girls arc artifi- 
cially deflowered before marriage by someone else than the 
future husband. 

It is based on the taboo against the husband deflowering his 
bride, which in the reasoning of many primitive tribes might 
lead to all sorts of evil results. This reluctance on the part of 
the bridegroom is a fact widely attested in the lore of anthropo- 
logical research. 

Often it was the mother, or other older women of the tribe 
who performed the rite as an initiation ceremony preliminary 
to marriage. It signifies that the subject had passed from the 
condition of childhood, and was now a woman with the re- 
sponsibilities and duties incumbent upon her new position in 

i8 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

In some sections of ancient Peru, when a girl was sought in 
marriage she was deflowered by the mother in the presence of 
the relatives who made the hetrbtl^l arrangement, to demon- 
strate to all present the care that had been taken of her. It was 
proof of the honor and respectability of the bride, and at the 
same time relieved the future husband of the necessity of de- 
floration in the manner indicatd|, by nature. 

Among the Kamchadal the bVide’s mother was blamed if 
the man found his wife to be a virgin, so it became the practice 
of the mother to perform the defloration in the girl’s early 

The Todas of the Nilgiris, in Southern India, considered it 
most essential that the defloration should take place before 
puberty, and few things wg^e regarded as more disgraceful 
than that this ceremony should be delayed beyond this period. 
It might subject a woman to reproach and abuse for the re- 
mainder of her life, and it was even said that men might refuse 
to marry her if this ceremony had not been performed at the 
proper time. 

Whether these rites are performed by the mother or other 
women of the tribe, or by extra-matrimonial intercourse 
through arrangements made by the bride’s family, they are 
always considered a very serious matter, bound up with the 
most sacred beliefs of those who participate in the practice. 

The Match-maker. — ^The mind of twentieth-century Amer- 
ican youth, used to choosing his own mate, finds it difficult to 
contemplate seriously the function of a professional match- 
maker. Nevertheless, the matrimonial middle-man has been an 
important institution among many peoples in various parts of 
the world, and even in our own country among certain groups 
of immigrants, and their children of the first and second gen- 

Curious Mating Customs 19 

eration, until the process of assimilation has outmoded the 

Primitive and civilized people alike have found this practice 
an expedient way of bringing together marriageable young 
men and young women, who otherwise would have little op- 
portunity to meet eligible prospects for marriage. It is common 
among the Mohammedans and Arabs; it prevailed in ancient 
India, and it has existed in European countries down to the 
present time. 

Insufficient opportunity for eligible young people to meet 
and enter into a mutually satisfactory marriage contract seems 
to be the impetus that brought this system into being. Higher 
up in the social scale the problem is made more complex by 
the economic factors, material means or wealth, that may be 

The connection between marriage and money is an old one, 
and since the beginning of the institution of private property, 
the problem of marrying off daughters and sons advanta- 
geously has been one that has caused concern to innumerable 
fathers and mothers. 

In the more primitive periods of human society, before the 
acquisition of private property became the established feature 
of social organization, this factor did not enter into the pros- 
pects of marriage. There were many peculiar customs, some of 
which have been touched upon and others of which will be 
related in subsequent chapters, but marriage for money or 
kind, with or without the influence of a match-maker, was not 
one of them. Marriage for money must therefore be regarded 
as a by-product of civilization. 

Insofar as the match-maker deals with the medium of money 
or other wealth, he is an agent or broker performing his func- 
tion like any other commercial go-between in our own busi- 

20 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

ness world. On this basis, he usually receives a commission, 
representing a percentage of the dowry as his fee. Conse- 
quently, it is to his interest to see that the dowry is as large 
as can be exacted. 

There are people among whom it is customary for the father 
to think of his daughter as a piece of desirable or valuable 
property. His whole interest in her is to receive as much as 
possible for her in cattle, merchandise or money. What his 
daughter will think of her husband is for him a matter of no 
importance. The purchaser must be able to pay for value re- 
ceived, and his trustworthiness must be assured if the bride is 
to be purchased on deferred installments. It is true that the 
tribe or community may limit the circle from which the hus- 
band may be drawn, but it may limit still further the market- 
ability of property other than daughters. 

The opposite of this situation — ^where the husband is 
“bought” and the bridal price is paid — often introduces the 
factor of the desirability of the marriage from points other 
than the pecimiary one. In this case, the bride’s family is 
buying rather than selling, and the element for which they are 
paying i> usually position, title or social prestige of some sort. 
The match-maker in instances of this kind becomes something 
more than a mere business agent. He may act by virtue of his 
position in the community. That is, he officiates because he is 
a person of special social, political or religious importance, or 
he may be a relative whose tact and diplomacy make him 
eligible for this delicate duty. He may not receive pecuniary 
compensation, but the successful culmination of his efforts 
assures him of the rewards of obligation and respect of influ- 
ential people, and thus enhances his position and increases his 

Throughout the Middle Ages and right down to our own 


Curious Mating Customs 

time a professional class of match-makers existed among Euro- 
pean Jews, known as shadl^ans or shadchans. In the early days 
these men were mostly rabbis and persons engaged in the 
study of Talmudic law and theology. It was considered im- 
proper for them to derive pecimiary gains directly from their 
leaning, but the match-making profession offered a dignified 
way for them to earn a livelihood. 

Probably the principal reason why the institution of the pro- 
fessional match-maker continued among the Jews through the 
centuries, while it tended to disappear among other Europeans, 
is found in the ostracism of the Jews in a predominantly 
Christian society. During the medieval period of constant op- 
pression and periodic massacre, the Jewish people were almost 
exterminated in certain localities, and the isolated survivors 
found it necessary to take unusual means to arrange for 
desirable marriages of their sons and daughters in at best a 
latently hostile environment. 

In the course of time the haggling and indecorous competi- 
tion which arose drove most of the learned men from the 
profession, no longer held to be so honorable as in the past. 

The shadchan has survived, particularly among Slavonic and 
other Jews of Eastern Europe. In this way the institution 
reached America and enjoyed a period of successful trans- 
planted life, created largely in the East Side of New York and 
other large Jewish communities. The shadchanim advertised in 
the Yiddish newspapers, announcing their office hours and 
setting forth their ability to provide professional men, business 
men and honest workingmen for maidens and widows. 

Of course, the practice was prompted by conditions in the 
old world, which had diminishing application here, except 
perhaps in the instance of more or less wealthy Jewish mer- 
chants with marriageable daughters in non-Jewish communi- 

22 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

ties. As the American-born Jew has ample opportunity to meet 
girls freely both within and without his own circle, the insti- 
tution of the shadehan seems destined to fall into desuetude, 
although the professional match-makers can be depended 
upon to wage a vigorous fight against assimilation — ^and the 
loss of his commission. 

And lest the nop-Jewish American should think this custom 
altogether alien to our native way of life, it might be well to 
point out that we have a large and ever growing number of 
matrimonial papers (journalistic match-makers) and corre- 
spondence bureaus (mail order go-betweens)^ to perform a 
similar service, although, unfortunately, less expertly. The 
amply dowried daughter and the rich widow are offered as 
crowning inducements to the acquisitive American male with 
the price of a subscription, or even return postage. The results, 
of course, would cause the humblest shadchan to blush for 
shame over the status of his once honorable profession. 


Modern Survivals of Ancient Customs 

Echoes From the Past. — ^The betrothal, or engagement, is a 
custom that harkens back to remote antiquity. In primitive life 
there was little courtship or wooing, except possibly as a 
prelude to the sexual act, which is more or less prevalent 
throughout the animal world. In a word, the wooing of early 
man was perhaps a brief episode which precipitated almost at 
once into marriage of the kind that prevailed in the given 

With the development of tribal life and organized com- 
munities, following the period of marriage by capture, mating 
took place on another basis. Savage people took considerable 
pains to make themselves attractive to, and attracted by, the 
opposite sex by ornamenting, painting and tattooing them- 
selves, or even by grotesquely mutilating certain features. 

The long period of marriage by purchase, or by contract, 
must have lent encouragement to these expressions of sexual 
interest. An attractive daughter, possessing the qualities most 
desired according to the existing standards, made her a valua- 
ble marketable asset to the father when the time came to 
arrange for her marriage. And the dynamic sexual impulse of 
the male, normally the one to take the initiative in this sphere, 
assured sustained interest and activity from the beginning of 

Romantic courtship, of course, did not exist — that is, the 


24 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

pre-marital love of one individual for another of his choice. 
But the mating urge that is inherent in all forms of life above 
the asexual prompted youth to react with erotic interest to- 
ward the members of the opposite sex in general, at least 
within its own group or approved circle. 

The boy looked forward to the day when he could have his 
mate, the same as }iis elders. The girl just as eagerly hoped for 
the fulfilment of her biological destiny. The manner in which 
this object was to be accomplished could hardly ever have 
been a matter of personal choice, but was rather a business 
arrangement between the families of the couple, or more es- 
pecially between the respective fathers or other male acting 
head of the family. 

Nevertheless, the very nature of the arrangement brought 
about the function of the betrothal. It may have seemed de- 
sirable to the families concerned to seal the betrothal during 
the infancy or childhood of the bride and groom-to-be. 

In some of the islands of the Pacific, it was common for 
fathers to betroth their unborn children. In New Caledonia the 
girls were betrothed at birth. In the Fiji Islands it was the 
custom until recently, and perhaps still is to some extent, to 
marry the children when the infant bride and groom are only 
three or four years old. Though the marriage is only a cere- 
mony, it is strictly binding and the couple start living together 
when they reach maturity. When infant betrothal is practiced, 
the bride may not see her future husband until the day of their 

Where there were mutual family property rights to be con- 
sidered, or social advantages to be secured, the betrothal of 
children at an early age was a likely procedure to effect the 
desired results. Even in modern times, in the heyday of royalty 
in Europe, this practice was often followed to advance what 

Modern Survivals of Ancient Customs 25 

was considered to be the interests of the regal houses, or, 
sometimes, to improve the national position of the countries 
represented in the union. 

Not infrequently a royal personage in love with a woman of 
inferior rank or position, who wished to establish the relation- 
ship on a quasi-legal basis, has entered into what is called a 
morganatic marriage. This form of marriage did not give the 
royal rank of the husband to the morganatic wife or her chil- 
dren, nor did it entitle them to inherit the father’s property. 
It was usual, however, to make an adequate settlement upon 
the woman who entered into such a relationship, both for her 
support and for the maintenance of their offspring. 

Thus love will assert itself, in spite of the rigid restrictions 
imposed upon the blood royal. Unfortunately, the royal prin- 
cess was denied the same freedom as the male members of her 
class in entering into a morganatic alliance with a commoner. 
Women of high royal caste on occasion have married men of 
lesser rank, usually of the nobility, but this has been more for 
political expediency than for love. The amorous princess and 
the neglected queen who sought romantic diversion outside of 
the limited royal circle usually had recourse to a lover — and 
they have been legion in the history and annals of the royal 

Tokens of Engagement. — Sealing the engagement pact with 
a ring or other token is a usage of great antiquity. It probably 
derives from the very old custom of using the ring as a pledge 
in any important or sacred agreement. 

In the first book of the Old Testament it is stated: “And 
Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See I have set thee over all the land 
of Egypt. And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and 
put it upon Joseph’s hand” {Genesis xli, 41, 42). 

An ancient custom among the common people was to break 

26 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

a piece of gold or silver to seal the marriage pact. One half of 
the token was kept by the man, the other half by the woman. 
This practice preceded the exchange of rings, with which it 
has a close affinity in the use of precious metals for the purpose. 

In ancient Ireland it is said to have been the custom for the 
man to give the woman he wanted to marry a bracelet woven 
of human hair. He^ acceptance of it was symbolic of accepting 
the man, linking herself to him for life. The use of some 
strands of hair in love-lockets, usually curled into a circle, has 
been a custom down to modern times. In the bracelet, as in 
the ring, we have the circle — the link — symbolizing union, un- 
broken and without end. 

Throughout the Middle Ages, it was quite customary to seal 
the betrothal pact by means of a ring. In England rings were 
exchanged to solemnize the" verbal contract of betrothal. In 
Southern Europe, the use of the ring was also widespread. The 
joint ring — made in two parts and linked together in a seem- 
ingly solid circle — has had much favor as a token of love unit- 
ing the betrothed couple. 

A Greek engagement or betrothal ring of the fourth century 
B.C. bears the following exalted inscription, “To her who ex- 
cels not only m virtue and prudence, but also in wisdom.” An- 
other early example carries an inscription as modern as today’s 
colloquialism — the single Greek word meaning “Honey”. 

The Diamond Ring.— With the development of the artistic 
crafts, the enhancement of esthetic taste, and the greater com- 
mercial facility in transporting objects of value about the 
world, it was only natural that the betrothal ring should 
eventually be ornamented by precious stones. 

All the well-known precious gems have been used for this 
purpose, but it is significant that the diamond — and especially 
the solitaire — ^has come to be generally accepted as the ideal 

Modern Sttrvivals of Ancient Customs 27 

engagement ring, most highly prized by the modern maiden. 

There are other stones of exquisite beauty, faultlessly colored 
in nature’s matchless laboratory, and often of greater value, 
size for size, than the diamond — the ruby, the emerald, the 
oriental sapphire — ^but none can hope to compete in popularity 
with that sparkling carbon-crystal known as the diamond. 

How much superstition has to do with this— the supersti- 
tious fancy or sentiment that seems to be an inborn trait of 
feminine intuition — ^we may only guess. But we do know there 
is an ancient superstition that the sparkle of the diamond 
originated in the alchemistic fires of love Sentiments associ- 
ated with certain ideas seem to be ageless and immutable, and 
regardless of time or the state of cultural or social advance- 
ment we find a particular sentiment associated with a par- 
ticular object So the diamond ring, the portent of love, and 
the betrothal, ever hopeful portal to a new life of happiness, 
are found inseparably linked by sentiment and tradition. 

The Wedding Ring. — ^While there is no exact history of the 
origin of the wedding ring, it is believed to have evolved from 
the older betrothal ring. The earliest record of the wedding 
ring appears in Egyptian literature. The idea fitted in with 
Egyptian thought, as in hieroglyphics the circle represents 
eternity. By applying the name to a plain band or circle for the 
finger, marriage was thus identified with a tie through eternity. 

According to tradition, the early Hebrew wedding rings 
were usually plain gold, without setting They were permitted 
to be of silver, and even base metals were acceptable. It is 
apparent that the Jewish wedding ring was of ceremonial or 
symbolic meaning because it was often too large for wearing 
as a finger ornament. 

The Christian form, on the other hand, has always been the 
true finger ring, usually of gold, and generally devoid of 

28 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

ornament. The use of the wedding ring among Christians has 
been traced back to the year 860. It is said that when a marriage 
settlement had been properly sealed, rings bearing the names 
of the newly married couple were passed around for inspec- 
tion among the guests. 

There have been many variations of wedding or marriage 
rings — such as double rings joined by a pivot (gemmal rings), 
rings set more or' less elaborately with gems, and even so- 
called puzzle rings, in which several individual loops were so 
shaped as to form together an apparently indivisible ring— but 
the single unadorned band has been the most common form of 
wedding ring. 

Marriage rings have been made of a great variety of mate, 
rials. Besides the various metals, such as gold, silver, iron, steel 
and bronze, wood, rush and -leather have also been used. The 
Romans used iron, which had an appropriate significance be- 
cause of the traditional strength and durability of this metal. 
Medieval peasants used circlets of rush, wood or leather be- 
cause they could afford no better, but they insisted upon some 
sort of a ring to seal the union. At the beginning, the use of 
gold bore the association of purity, and its value indicated it 
as a token of the wealth the husband brought to the consum- 
mation of the marriage contract. 

Platinum has come into extensive use in later years for 
wedding rings as in other jewelry, and the wedding ring set 
with a row, or forming a circle, of small diamonds has had 
considerable vogue. Among the novelties have been the 
“Orange Blossom” ring, bringing the symbolism of one of 
nature’s most prolific fruits into association with the marriage, 
and the “Venus” ring, harking back to the goddess of Love. 

Aside from the symbol of unity and eternity associated with 
the wedding ring, it has been maintained that the finger circlet 

Modem Survivals of Ancient Customs 29 

of marriage developed from the circular fetters or bracelets 
placed upon the captive woman of primitive times, thus being 
a symbolic relic (although an unconscious one) of her ancient 
status of subjection and servitude to the master. 

The exchanging of wedding rings has likewise symbolized 
loss of freedom — ^the “ball-and-chain” concept, in another form 
— bondage for the man and subjugation for the woman. These 
associations of servitude and inferiority undoubtedly sprang in 
part from the language of the Christian marriage ritual, when 
it took over the traditionally secular marriage contract. The 
sacramental view of marriage, with its emphasis on the perma- 
nent spiritual union, denotes the surrender of freedom. The 
use of the phrase “to obey” in the woman’s vow, so long a 
feature of the Christian marriage rite, but now more and more 
omitted by mutual wish, was a further note of her subjugation 
to the husband’s will. 

The Ring Finger. — Further evidence of the concept of servi- 
tude, symbolized in the use of the wedding ring, is indicated 
by the wearing of the ring on the left hand. From earliest 
times, the right hand has symbolized power and authority; the 
left hand, subjection. 

The particular digit upon which the ring is worn — ^thc fourth 
finger — once had special significance. It was thought in ancient 
times that a certain vein or nerve in the fourth finger of the left 
hand ran directly to that time-honored seat of the affections — 
the heart. This significance is no longer known by the great 
majority of women who wear the ring, and it is known to be 
an anatomical fallacy. Nevertheless the old custom continues. 
Many women would consider themselves something less than 
properly married if they wore the wedding ring Oxi any other 

The utilitarian argument has been presented that the fourth 

30 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

finger is a logical choice because it is guarded by the fingers 
on either side, that of all the fingers it is the least used, and, 
furthermore, that the left hand, as the hand less used, is the 
place of least wear. As in most cases of trying to prove a point, 
where tradition, sentiment and superstition are involved, this 
seems like a choice bit of rationalization. 

As a matter of fapt most fingers of both hands, including the 
thumbs, have been used for wearing rings. During the Eliza- 
bethan period in England, the wedding ring was worn on the 
thumb, as is shown in portraits of ladies of that time. 

Bridal Customs. — It is inevitable that numerous customs 
should have grown up and centered about the bride, to whom 
the anticipation of marriage has meant so much. There arc 
bridal showers and hope chejjis, the preparation of the trous- 
seau and other intimate things for the wedding and honey- 
moon, the significance of the bridal veil, the now obsolete 
custom (except among certain savages) of cutting the bride’s 
hair, the bridal escort, and many others. 

It is believed that the idea of the “hope chest” grew out of 
the ancient custom of the dowry, which in turn grew out of 
the much older custom of marriage by purchase. As the usages 
of society departed further from their coarser and more sordid 
beginnings, it became desirable to use symbols or subterfuge 
for the original practices, so as still to keep something of the 
traditional past. 

Thus the dowry was an indirect way of compensating the 
bridegroom for the bride-price paid to the parents. It tended 
to- take away the stigma from a transaction that originally had 
been strictly a business deal — the purchase of the bride. With 
the passing of marriage by purchase, the bridegroom no longer 
gave money or goods to the father, but the latter nevertheless 
furnished the daughter with her dowry. 

Modern Survivcds of Ancient Customs 31 

There is something romantic, comforting and, naturally, 
hopeful about a hope chest, so that the idea survived as a 
sentimental relic of other days. The old tradition was that for 
the girl — and she may have begun at a very early age — to make 
every item of personal finery and household linen that went 
into the hope chest was to earn everlasting marital happiness. 

This belief, of course, originated in a more frugal and thrifty 
age, when for generation after generation mother taught 
daughter the virtues of discipline, patience and industry. 
Father made the chest, mother inspired the daughter with its 
meaning and traditions, and the handiwork of the daughter 
constituted its contents. Today, of course, the hope chest is 
bought in a department store, and its contents generally rep- 
resents a pot pourri from all sources except the handicraft of 
the owner. 

The bridal shower is a custom perhaps centuries old, about 
which there are related some amusing legends. And like many 
legends that seem farfetched, or preposterous, they may have 
some basis of fact. Its merit lies in its being a delightful way 
for friends and acquaintances to present gifts that would seem 
too trifling if they were independently presented. 

Also intimately concerned with the bride’s preparations for 
marriage is her trousseau. The term is from the word trusse, 
meaning a little bundle. It originally constituted the dowry, 
and with the decline of marriage by purchase, became a tactful 
way of compensating the bridegroom for the money or goods 
which he paid to the girl’s father. The trousseau, or dowry, 
was handed over to the daughter as her marriage portion. 

At one time it was the privilege of the prospective bride- 
groom to examine the trousseau in order to determine whether 
or not in his opinion it was adequate or complete. Not infre- 
quently, we are told, the decision of the suitor depended upon. 

32 strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

the value of the girl’s trousseau. The term then included not 
only the personal apparel appropriate for her wedding and 
honeymoon, but also all kinds of household items, such as 
gold and silver tableware, china, linens, tapestries and what 

Among the superstitions concerning the trousseau is that it 
is unlucky to try qn any of the wedding garments before the 
actual day of marriage. A widespread belief prevails that to do 
so will result in disappointment and unhappiness. 

According to the old Grecian custom the sons of a family 
were not supposed to marry until the daughters had found 
husbands. To facilitate the marriage of their sisters the brothers 
made it a point to help provide their trousseaux. Such is broth- 
erly lovel 

The Bridal Veil. — ^The veil, of all the bride’s marriage outfit, 
has special symbolic significance, and is still the most con- 
spicuous feature of her dress at a formal wedding. There are 
various reasons advanced to account for this old and wide- 
spread custom. It is said to have originated in ancient times as 
a symbol of the bride’s submission to the husband. 

Credence is given to this opinion by the analogous custom 
of sisters in ecclesiastical orders, who universally wear veils as 
a symbol of their submission to the absolute authority of their 
religious order. The analogy to the bride or marriage is further 
indicated by the fact that the sisters are said to be “Brides of 
Christ”, or “married to God” (i.e., to the service of God). 

The veil is unquestionably a symbol of submission. This 
thought, however, is far from the mind of the modern bride 
as she marches serenely to the altar, draped in yards and yards 
of the symbolic vestment of bygone centuries. 

Among peoples of the Near East and elsewhere, it was and 
still is in some cases customary to keep the bride hidden from 

Modem Survivals of Ancient Customs 33 

her future husband until the day of the wedding. On this occa- 
sion, he goes through the solemn ceremony of uncovering 
the face. Great must be the surprise that meets his eyes after 
the long months, or even years, of wondering and anticipating 
what this moment would bring forth. How often delight.? 
How often disappointment.? 

The Bridesmaids. — Again, in the matter of the bridesmaids, 
we find the origin of the custom in the pretense to struggle, as 
a survival of the time of marriage by capture, or its immediately 
succeeding period. This was considered the modest and 
maidenly thing to do. 

There is a great mass of evidence from the marriage customs 
of peoples all over the world — ^which will be referred to in 
greater detail in the chapter on Marriage by Capture — of the 
simulation by the bride of struggle against conquest by the 

Fitting into this allegory, the bridesmaids may be considered 
a modification or survival of the bride’s militant attendants, 
assigned to protect her from the impending fate that awaits. 
Certainly, in formal marriages, especially church weddings, the 
bride has an impressive escort, and there seems to be a con- 
spiracy to keep the bride and groom apart until they meet at 
the altar. 

It has been suggested, less convincingly, we believe, that the 
bridesmaids had their origin in the old Roman custom of hav- 
ing ten witnesses at the solemn marriage ceremony. On this 
theory, the bridesmaids developed from the ancient practice 
of having the required witnesses, usually friends of the bride’s 
family. This hypothesis completely overlooks the common 
symbolism that runs through the marriage ceremonies of al- 
most all peoples, whether or not there has been any traditional 
Roman influence. It does not account for the numerous devices 

34 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

tending to simulate the evasion or reluctance of the bride in 
connection with the completion of the rites. 

Other customs have had long vogue in various parts of the 
world, some having become passe because of a more enlight- 
ened viewpoint, and others having become almost unrecogniz- 
able because of symbolic representation. Cutting the bride’s 
hair, for instance, >j/as a widespread ancient practice. This was 
doubtless associated with the idea that newly married women 
should be deprived of their principal charm, so as to make 
them unattractive to other men. 

The cutting of the hair also symbolized the bride’s submis- 
sion and subjugation to the husband; as the identical practice 
in ecclesiastical orders symbolizes the submission of the noviti- 
ate to the authority of the order. In male religious orders a 
similar symbolism is found in either clipping the hair com- 
pletely off the head, or shaving a so-called “crow’s nest” on the 
crown of the head. In the modern marriage the symbolism of 
the bride’s submission is accomplished, without the sacrifice of 
her charms, by the use of the veil. 

Among the Egyptians, it was the custom to tic up the bride’s 
hair upon the conclusion of the wedding ceremony. The prac- 
tice also prevailed in ancient Britain, the bride going to the 
wedding with her hair hanging loosely, signifying freedom, 
and after the ceremony, the hair was bound up as a sign of her 
subjugation. This was a desirable modification of the older 
custom of shearing off the hair, for while it symbolized the 
surrender of freedom, it did enable the bride to keep her 
“crowning glory,” which must have contributed to the main- 
tenance of her integrity as a personality. 

In ancient Japan, where heavy eyebrows were considered 
one of woman’s greatest charms, the brows were shaved off at 
the time of marriage, thus presenting the physical evidence 

Modern Survivals of Ancient Customs 35 

of the wife’s new status of subordination to her lord and mas- 
ter. The position of women in oriental life was and largely is 
one of accepted subjugation anyway, so this merely identified 
her as a married woman, as distinguished from her unmarried 

The Bridegroom and His Traditions. — groom no less than 
a bride is also identified with an assortment of traditional 
practices. He has his best man, and if the wedding is a formal 
one, the groomsmen. He is permitted to have, and if he fulfils 
all the formalities, he is expected to give, a final bachelor’s 

In modern times, of course, he is subordinated and almost 
lost sight of in the focusing of interest and attention upon the 
bride and her activities. In contrast to the self-assurance and 
poise of the bride, he is invariably nervous and evinces the 
attitude of having consciously, or self-consciously, resolved to 
see the thing through. It is not without reason that the com- 
petent, experienced clergyman carries as standard equipment 
for all wedding ceremonies a spare wedding ring, unob- 
trusively to slip into service when and if the absent-minded 
groom should mislay, lose or forget the ring that seals the 
nuptial bond. 

The best man, like so many of the mainstays of the cere- 
monial wedding, is considered a relic of marriage by capture. 
When the primordial bridegroom started out to capture a 
bride he was usually accompanied by an able-bodied friend 
who intercepted the pursuit by the girl’s kinsmen or protector. 

Groomsmen, likewise, were originally attendants of the 
stalking bridegroom when he needed a small contingent to 
cover his adventure and escape, instead of depending upon his 
one strong-armed aid — the forerunner of the best man. 

We are told that in medieval times the groomsmen were 

36 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

known as bride \nights. Thus, it would seem that with the 
disappearance of the original purpose of these stalwarts, the 
custom of having them was retained, but their function was 
diverted to another ceremonial use. They now served the 
bride, led her to the church, accompanied her to the altar, and 
after the ceremony relinquished her to the groom. 

As a matter of fact, this symbolism appears to suggest a 
survival from marriage by purchase. A delegation from the 
bride’s family, under the latter arrangement, accompanied the 
bride from her home to the place of the ceremony, saw that 
the terms of the contract were carried out in all details and, 
this accomplished, turned her over to the hushand-to-be. 

The name “bridegroom” has been attributed to the custom 
among various peoples of having the newly married man, on 
his wedding day, wait at table on his bride. “Groom” signified 
one serving in a menial position. Thus, “bridegroom” was one 
who served the bride. The term may have a still more literal 

It is said that the custom of the bachelor dinner originated 
in Sparta. The bridegroom in that country customarily enter- 
tained his friends at supper on the eve of the wedding. The 
event was known as the “men’s mess.” The widespread prac- 
tice of this custom, however, indicates that it may have started 
spontaneously in many lands, as so many early customs seem 
to have done. Well it might, as it is only natural for a group of 
friends to be invited to a little stag party at which the bride- 
groom-to-be bids farewell as a bachelor to his old cronies. 

Miscellaneous Wedding Customs.— Among the early Anglo- 
Saxons, before the Church made it compulsory for the mar- 
riage to be performed by a priest, certain secular marriage 
vows were repeated and certain rites were performed, out of 
which developed the traditional rites and ceremonies of the 

Mddern Sttrviveds of Ancient Customs 37 

present day. The bride was taken “for fairer or fouler, for 
better or worse, for richer or poorer.” She promised, among 
other things, to be “buxom and bonny” to her future husband. 

The ceremony was a simple but solemn, self-administered 
rite, requiring no clerical intermediary. After the mutual 
pledge, the bridegroom put the ring in turn on each of the 
fingers of the bride’s left hand. At the first he would say, “In 
the name of the Father,” at the second, “In the name of the 
Son,” at the third, “In the name of the Holy Ghost.” Upon 
reaching the fourth and final ring finger, he said simply, 
“Amen,” and the wedding ceremony was finished. The 
Church, as well as the State, recognized the validity and le- 
gality of this form of marriage. 

It was an age of comparative simplicity. Marriage was a 
fundamental way of life, and it was necessary to make provi- 
sions for its fulfilment with the simple means at hand. And 
yet we recognize in their homely pledges and ritual the essen- 
tial features of the marriage ceremony that have come down 
through the centuries, a few obsolete words only being 
changed. The orthodox Quakers, staunch individualists al- 
ways, have continued this practice of sole mnizin g their own 
marriage without benefit of clergy, requiring only witnesses 
to attest the ceremony. 

Bridal Flowers. — Orange blossoms have been carried by 
brides and associated with weddings from time immemorial, 
and many are the legends relating to this bloom and its fruit. 
As a tree that blooms and bears concurrently, and in all sea- 
sons, the analogy to fruitfulness is obvious. One good trait call- 
ing for another, the blossoms soon came to portend good luck' 
and happiness (which, after all, were synonymous with fertility 
in the long ago). Today, perhaps, the good luck portent is 
cherished, but the original motive is forgotten. 

38 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

The use of the orange blossom as a bridal flower is said to 
have been introduced into Europe by the returning Crusaders. 
It was customary to use sprigs of the blossoms as a crown on 
the bridal veil, a practice of Saracenic origin. Spenser and 
Milton interpreted the orange as the “golden apple” presented 
to Jupiter by Juno on their wedding day. 

Liiles-of-the-valley and roses have likewise been favorite 
wedding flowers, their delicacy and fragrance making them 
especially appealing to the bride. By tradition the red rose has 
been dedicated to Venus, and is a symbol of love, joy and 
beauty. There is also the mythological legend that Cupid gave 
a rose to Hippocrates to bribe him on his celebrated oath, not 
to reveal the indiscretions of Venus. 

The ancients favored the myrtle which, because of its endur- 
ing freshness, they considgfed the flower of the gods, and was 
used by them to symbolize constancy in duty and affection. 

The flower girl of today’s formal wedding harkens back to 
medieval times. It was the custom for two little girls, prefer- 
ably sisters, dressed identically and carrying garlands of wheat, 
to walk before the bride in the marriage procession. This 
symbolism presaged the fruitfulness of the union and an abun- 
dance of happiness. 

The throwing of the bridal bouquet is doubtless a substitute 
for the old custom of scuffling for the bride’s garter. In France 
in the early fourteenth century it was considered a lucky 
omen to secure the bride’s garter, and there was a general rush 
for it at the conclusion of the wedding ceremony. Notwith- 
standing that brides considerately left one garter dangling 
where it could readily be reached, they were often injured or 
roughly handled in the scramble. 

“Stocking throwing” directly succeeded the contest for the 

Modern Survivals of Ancient Customs 39 

garter. As stockings, however, are not among the easiest and 
most convenient things to remove and cast to the wedding 
guests for luck, some inspired bride thought of throwing her 
bridal bouquet as a substitute. This custom has come down 
through the centuries. Tradition says that the lucky maiden 
who catches the bouquet will be the next to marry. 

The Symbolism of Rice.— The custom of throwing rice, or 
other grain, after a departing bridal couple goes back to very 
ancient times and is almost worldwide. Rice is traditionally 
symbolic of fertility or productiveness, and its use at weddings 
evidences the wish of fruitfulness for the union. 

Among peoples to whom rice was not available, wheat, 
corn, or other grain served the same purpose, the symbol of 
fecundity. The ancient Greeks were accustomed to pour flour 
and sweetmeats over the bride and groom as an expression of 
a wish for an abundance of all that is good and sweet and 
desirable. Fruits and nuts have likewise been widely used, 
especially in the Mediterranean countries, as a symbol of fruit- 

In India the throwing of rice can be traced from its earliest 
literature down to the present day. The poet Kalidasa describes 
how Prince Aja and his bride, sitting on a golden chair, were 
strewn with wet grains of barley, first by young Brahmans, 
then by the King and all his relatives, and finally by noble 

It was the custom in seventeenth-century England to cast 
wheat over the head of the bride when she came from church. 
In the north of England one of the oldest inhabitants of the 
neighborhood, who has been stationed on the threshold of the 
bride’s new home, throws a plateful of short-bread over her 
head, so that it falls outside. A scramble ensues among the 

40 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

friends of the married couple for the pieces, as it is deemed 
very fortunate to get a piece of the short-bread. In Gloucester- 
shire, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, a large cake 
was broken over the heads of the couple. 

In northeastern Scotland, when the bride passed over the 
threshold, there was held over her head a sieve containing 
bread and chees/q, which were distributed among the guests or 
sometimes scattered around her, in which case there was a 
scramble by the young folks to secure a piece. At times an 
oatmeal cake was broken over her head, and in later days a 
thin cake of short-bread, called the bride-cake, was substituted 
for it. This, too, was distributed among the guests, who care- 
fully preserved it, particularly the unmarried. 

Variations of these customs persist to this day in England, 
Scotland and Ireland. They are of course closely related to the 
throwing of rice or grain, ingredients from which the objects 
thrown are made. The sieve, of which frequent use is made in 
marriage ceremonies, is also regarded as a symbol of fecundity. 

Among more primitive savages, the throwing of rice is 
thought to have originated in the desire to appease evil spirits 
and keep them from doing injury to the bridal pair. It was the 
primitive belief that evil spirits were always present at a mar- 
riage, so food was offered to propitiate these unseen malignant 

Numerous devices have been employed to drive demons and 
wicked genii from the house where the wedding takes place, 
and from the nuptial bed. In old Russia, doors, windows and 
chimneys were tightly closed at a wedding in order to keep 
out witches. Shooting off guns and fireworks to remove the 
power of evil spirits is an ancient practice of people as far re- 
moved as the Southern European and the Chinese. 

Other primitives offer rice as an inducement to the soul of 

Modem Survivals of Ancient Customs 41 

the bridegroom to remain with the bride. A widespread belief 
prevails in Celebes that the soul of the bridegroom, unless 
bribed, may fly away at marriage and never return. Rice is thus 
scattered over him to prevent the flight of his fickle soul. 

Even the act of eating rice together out of a common bowl 
constitutes marriage among some primitives. Among nearly all 
savages the function of eating together symbolizes friendship, 
kinship and peace. To eat with a stranger automatically made 
him a kin. Eating together out of the same bowl or dish signi- 
fied the closest possible relationship, a spiritual or physical 
union, or marriage. Marriages generally in some of the Malayan 
and neighboring communities are completely carried out by 
the mutual eating of rice. 

The idea that eating or drinking together signifies an essen- 
tial part, or even the whole, of the marriage ceremony is widely 
entertained. In Japan the traditional wedding ceremony in its 
entirety consisted of drinking wine together, exchanging cups 
nine times, when the rites were completed. Among the Jews, 
the bride sips from a goblet of wine and gives it to the bride- 
groom, who, after drinking from it, throws it down and breaks 
the glass. This act may symbolize that the husband and wife 
share something in common, of which no other person may 

The breaking of dishes, glass vessels, eggs and various other 
objects is common in marriage ceremonies. The origin of the 
custom is believed to be in the notion that malignant spirits 
are thus driven off. Some primitives consider it a magic act to 
make child-bearing easy. The shattering of a glass, or analo- 
gous article, is sometimes said to represent the bride’s loss of 
virginity; also to insure the easy consummation of the mar- 
riage. As we have seen, customs continue long after their orig- 
inal motive has been forgotten. 

42 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

Throwing the Shoe. — ^The casting of sandals, shoes and 
slippers at bridal couples is one of the most common of all 
practices. The throwing of shoes may represent the battle be- 
tween the bride’s kinsmen and tribesmen, and the bride- 
groom’s party which is carrying her off. Westermarck here 
sees a defense against malign spirits and other evil influences. 

The shoe has also been acknowledged from ancient times as 
a symbol of autkority. Its evidence at weddings as an object 
to shower the bridal couple may well combine the symboliza- 
tion of transfer of possession and authority, with the signifi- 
cance already mentioned. 

The Assyrians and Hebrews, when closing a bargain, gave a 
sandal as a token of good faith and to signify the transfer of 
property. The Egyptians exchanged sandals to indicate that 
property had been transferibd or authority granted. Symbol of 
possession was shown by flinging a sandal upon a piece of 
property newly acquired. Thus: 

Upon the land of Edom do I cast my shoe. 

Psalms 6o:8; 108:9 

In old Britain it was the custom for the father to give his 
new son-in-law one of the bride’s shoes, in token of the transfer 
of authority. The bride was at once made cognizant of the 
change by a tap on the head given with the shoe. For his part 
the husband took an oath to treat his wife well. If he failed to 
do so, she might leave him, but the law and public opinion of 
the time gave him considerable license. 

Among the Arabians, as with many peoples of the East, it 
was once customary for a man to have first right to marry his 
cousin — a survival of endogamy, or marrying within a close 
family or tribal group. He was not required to marry her, but 
anyone seeking to do so had first to obtain his permission. If 

Modern Survivals of Ancient Customs 43 

he relinquished his right to marry his cousin, he said, “She was 
my slipper. I have cast her off.” Stripped of its symbolism, this 
statement meant : “I had first right to her as my cousin, but I 
have given up that right.” 

The Wedding Canopy. — A wedding custom peculiar to a 
number of peoples is the canopy erected over the heads of the 
bride and groom. At Hebrew weddings it is the practice to 
cover the bridal couple with a square vestment of this kind, 
flowing with pendants. The canopy, or chuppah, is held over 
the heads of the couple by four intimate friends. Many Jewish 
marriages are still celebrated under the canopy. 

In towns of Palestine and Egypt, the bride is described as 
walking under a canopy, escorted on either side by a man with 
a drawn sword. The protector symbolized here indicates a 
survival from the age of marriage by purchase — the kinsmen 
delivering the bride in accordance with the prearranged bar- 

Anciently, the bride occupied a canopied litter in the mar- 
riage procession. In other cases the canopied area was the 
actual compartment to which the couple retired when the 
wedding had been solemnized to consummate the union. 

A similar custom prevailed among the Anglo-Saxons who 
utilized a “care-cloth.” Remnants of this custom, and practices ■ 
associated with it, are said to have survived in Britain until the 
reign of Henry VIII. 

In some of the Teutonic countries of old, before a marriage 
was regarded as legally valid, it was necessary to prove that the 
couple had been together under the same blanket. The bride 
and bridegroom therefore went to bed together in the 
presence of the required witnesses. This custom survived in 
many localities until quite modern times. 

In the Scandinavian countries and in France, a square piece 

44 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

of cloth (in Sweden called pdll; in France, carr6) was held 
over the bride and bridegroom at the benediction. This prac- 
tice was continued in Swedish-speaking communities in Fin- 
land until recent times. 

Among other peoples, the custom of introducing a coverage 
is thought to have originated in antiquity in connection with 
the belief in syxqpathetic magic. It indicated a particular care 
to protect the bride or groom against dangers from above. 
Thus, in China, when the bride ascends the bridal sedan she 
wears a hat of paper, and an old woman who has sons and 
grandsons holds an umbrella. Male children ate highly desired 
in China, and girls traditionally unwanted; so we sec the sym- 
bolism of cajoling the spirits in favor of male offspring by 
employing the old woman who had been signally honored 
with sons and grandsons." 

Gifts in Courtship and Marriage. — ^The giving and receiv- 
ing of presents are intimately bound up with the traditions of 
courtship and marriage. Among primitive peoples the tender- 
ing of gifts, and the expectation of receiving gifts, are ele- 
mentary emotional responses. Even the distinction between 
making a gift and surrendering ownership of the object given 
may be hazy in the savage mind. Hence, we have the “Indian 
giver”. Young children evince the same trait — ^to give a thing, 
with a string of ownership attached. 

Gifts are made primarily to please or appease the recipient, 
and to win his or her favor. It is therefore natural that gift- 
making should occupy an important place in the role of court- 
ship. This was probably true in the time when courtship was 
no romantic adventure; when, in fact, what passed for court- 
ship as a prelude to marriage was largely a matter of physical 
force or purchase. 

In any event, the tendency of gift-making fosters a feeling 

Modern Survivals of Ancient Customs 45 

of friendliness. The savage recognizes it as the quickest and 
surest way to win one’s favor. And it is only necessary to win 
a person’s favor when the attitude of the person is uncertain 
or antagonistic. When he or she is friendly it is no longer 
necessary to give or appease. The logic of the thing is ele- 
mentary and readily grasped by the primitive min d — ^whether 
in the savage or the immature civilized individual. 

Even during the period of marriage by capture, there was 
the necessity or the desirability of appeasing the indignation 
or vanity of the captured bride in an effort to live in some- 
thing approaching amicable relations, as they were then under- 
stood. There was also the possibility of making a post-marital 
gift to the stolen bride’s father to calm his wrath. This prac- 
tice could easily have led to the succeeding practice of marriage 
by purchase — ^making a gift with the expectation of w inning 
the daughter in return, or conducting an outright bargain for 
her, calling it a gift, if you will. Primitive people had more 
gift-sense than purchase-sense, anyway. The real meaning of 
purchase came with the establishment of private property on 
a solid basis and with it the responsibility of ownership. 

Among the North American aborigines, when the young 
brave wished to court an Indian maiden he presented gifts, 
not to her, but to her father. If the gifts were accepted by the 
father, the betrothal was considered scaled. Again a form of 
marriage by purchase. 

A similar custom prevailed among the Japanese people. The 
sending of specified gifts by the young man to the girl’s par- 
ents was an important part of the ceremony. When the gifts 
were received and accepted, the marriage contract was con- 
sidered effective. Neither party could then withdraw. There 
are other variations of this practice, in some cases the mere 
exchange of gifts constituting the entire marriage ceremony. 

46 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

Today, in our Western World, the making of gifts likewise 
is an important feature of courtship and marriage; but no 
longer from the groom to the bride’s parents, except as one 
friend or in-law to another, because the period of marriage by 
purchase is long past, and the relics of it that remain are other- 
wise symbolized in the ceremony. 

Good judgment and the recognized rules of etiquette now 
govern the custom of giving presents by the various parties in 
connection with courtship and marriage. In any event, the one 
who makes a gift on these occasions, whether it be the bride 
or the groom, or a relative or friend of the bride, is carrying 
on a tradition whose origin is lost in the mists of time. 

Wedding Superstitions That Linger. — Superstitions con- 
cerning weddings and marriage are associated with all peoples 
and all cultures. Many of them have been vital enough to come 
down through the ages to the present day. Few are the 
modern brides who will ignore all of them in making their 
wedding plans. Some of these associations are merely quaint 
rhymes or fanciful prose sayings; others are sentiments in- 
grained into the legends and lore of all civilized people. No 
treatment of the subject would be complete without men- 
tioning the following superstitions, which still command at- 
tention, if only, in some cases, because they are constantly 
repeated : 

If you marry on Wednesday you will be happy; if you marry 
on Friday or Saturday you will be unhappy. 

The prospects for the whole week have been indicated in 
quatrain form as follows : 

Monday for wealth, Tuesday for health, 

Wednesday best day of all; 

Thursday for crosses, Friday for losses — 

Saturday, no luck at all. 

Modern Survivals of Ancient Customs 47 

A double wedding means unhappiness to one of the couples. 

It is bad luck to try on a wedding gown before the cere- 

To lose the wedding ring is an omen of unhappiness. 

A bride to be happy should step over the church sill with 
her right foot.'' 

The bride is the first to cut the wedding cake. If anyone else 
cuts into the cake first, the bride’s happiness and prosperity 
are cut into. 

June is the traditionally lucky month in which to marry. 
Incidentally, it is the month of more weddings than any other. 

The bride is advised to wear “something blue”, a sentiment 
said to have been carried down from the ancient Israelites 
which still commands popular notice. The Israelite brides 
were bidden to put upon the shoulders of their fringed gar- 
ments a “ribband of blue” — ^blue being the color of purity, 
love and fidelity. This thought has been perpetuated in the 

Something old and something new. 

Something borrowed and something blue. 

The weather is a factor that has not been overlooked! 
“Happy is the bride the sun shines on,” is an adage of old 
that is still repeated. Even this seemingly trite comment has a 
logical basis in the language of symbolism. The fertilizing, life- 
sustaining power of the sun was recognized by primitive man. 
It was therefore an omen of happiness, a harbinger of fruitful- 
ness, when the sun shone upon the bride on her nuptial day. 
The Hindu bride was expected to rise early on the day of her 
wedding and look into the face of the sun. In certain parts of 
Asia it was the custom for the bride and groom to greet the 
rising sun together on the wedding morn. 

48 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

' The Wedding Cake. — ^The wedding cake is doubtless a 
development of the primitive practice of eating a special food 
as part of the marriage rites. Food and the wedding ceremony 
have been almost inseparable, and in certain instances, as we 
have seen, the partaking of food or wine together under a 
certain specified formula has constituted the entire marriage 
ritual. Among primitive peoples, eating together symbolized 
kinship and evidenced one of the strongest ties of life. 

It is probable that the modern wedding cake, to consider it 
in its specialized form, is directly descended from the Roman 
confarreatio, a marriage ceremonial employed by the old 
patrician families, at which a particular kind of cake was used. 
At these marriage feasts, the cake of confarreation was broken 
over the bride’s head as a ^symbol of fruitfulness and plenty. 
Each of the guests took away a piece of the cake to insure 
plentifulness for himself or herself. 

We have the survival of this custom to the present day in 
providing pieces of the wedding cake neatly packed in small 
boxes and tied with white ribbon, for the convenience of 
the guest 

Some of the American Indians used a bride cake in marriage 
feasts. The Iroquois had a special kind of meal cake, made by 
the bride and presented to the groom, which played an im- 
portant part in the marriage ceremony. Traces of the custom 
still remain. 

The early English provided great baskets of small dry 
crackers for their marriage festivities. Each guest took one 
home. The remainder was distributed to the poor. It later 
became the custom to bring to the wedding small richly 
spiced buns which were piled in a great moimd on the table. 
Custom called for the bride and groom to attempt to kiss each 

Modem Survivals of Ancient Customs 49 

other over this mound, and if they succeeded they were 
assured lifelong happiness and prosperity. 

We arc told that the highly decorated wedding cake of the 
present day was the ingenious idea of a French cook who was 
traveling in England. Attending a wedding festival, he ob- 
served the inconvenience of piling a great number of small 
spiced cakes into one moimd, and conceived the idea of icing 
the mound into one solid mass. This, at least, is the legend of 
the birth of the modern wedding cake. 

A custom that once had considerable vogue, and is still 
extant, is to have a ring baked in the cake. According to the 
superstition, the person who gets the ring will be the next 
to marry. 

/ The Honeymoon. — The honeymoon is essentially a period 
of seclusion of the couple, or absence from the familiar habitat, 
following the marriage. It is considered a relic of the remote 
time of marriage by capture, when it was necessary for the 
groom to remain in hiding with his bride until the search for 
her was given up. 

The word derives from the custom which prevailed among 
some of the northern European countries for the newly 
married couple to drink metheglin or mead — a kind of wine 
made from honey — ^for a period of a month after the marriage. 
Thus, we have the combination of “honey” and “month” 
(moon). It seemed appropriate, too, to associate honey with a 
period of so much sweetness and delight for the parties con- 
cerned. According to tradition, Attila the Hun, once the 
scourge of Europe, drank so much mead at his wedding feast 
that he died from the over-indulgence. 

Long after the period of marriage by capture, when love 
and romance and frequent elopement entered the picture, it 
often became necessary for the bride and groom to remain in 

50 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

hiding for a while until the parental wrath cooled down, and 
the olive-branch of forgiveness was extended. So the tradi- 
tional honeymoon flight once more became a literal reality. 

Aside from the historic necessity and the modern conven- 
tional desire to make the honeymoon a hide-out or a journey, 
certain peoples have made the seclusion of the newly married 
couple an integral part of the ceremonial rites. The Bulgarians 
commonly shut up the bride and groom for a week, during 
which time they were not permitted to see visitors nor to visit 
others. Other peoples have followed the same practice for 
various lengths of time, from two or three days and nights to 
ten days or more. 

There is a common folk-saying that just as the moon begins 
to wane when it has reached its full, so does the honeymoon, 
and when the extreme of affection and love has been reached, 
then the turning point has come to a less violent emotional 

As we are now living in a mobile, travel-conscious age, the 
modern honeymoon, of course, is usually spent in travel or 
sojourning at a romantic spot. Whether the taste and purse 
determine upon Niagara Falls or Honolulu, or some other 
point, the pilgrimage is nevertheless spiritually of a piece with 
the withdrawal of the primordial groom and his bride to a 
distant hide-out, safely away from all contact with alien, new- 
found kinfolk. 

The Shivaree. — It is a custom in many small commimities in 
various parts of this country to serenade newly married 
couples in a rather boisterous, rowdy fashion, with the beating 
of tin-pans and kettles, miscellaneous noises, catcalls and by 
other hilarious means. If the village or town has a fife-and- 
drum corps, and the eminence of the couple seems to warrant 
it, this more formal serenading may also be provided. 

Modem Survivals of Ancient Customs 51 

This practice, called shivareeing, is of Latin origin and was 
introduced into America by the French people of Canada and 
Louisiana. It is an adaptation of an old French custom, prac- 
ticed in rural France, where it is called the charivari. 

It is said that this form of serenade was at one time universal 
in the ancient provinces that became modern France, and it 
was the custom to charivari all newlyweds. Being obviously an 
undignified procedure, its practice in the course of time be- 
came restricted to marriages among the peasantry, who were 
not so sensitive to the coarseness of the horseplay. It was 
esteemed an admirable vehicle for harassing unpopular mar- 
riages, for annoying newly wedded couples who had in any 
way defied or neglected the conventions, or to embarrass 
widows and widowers who remarried too soon to conform to 
what might be considered the proprieties. 

The American version of the shivaree, however, is charac- 
teristically a harmless, playful outburst of the local youth, 
usually free of any malice. Its most disconcerting feature is 
the din and noise produced. As practiced in the childhood 
home community of the present writer the principal object of 
the leaders of the shivaree was to continue the hilarious sere- 
nading until the marriage party threw out some money, 
usually silver coins in the amount of a dollar or two. The 
resultant scrimmage for the coins broke up the shivaree. 

Wedding Anniversaries. — ^The celebrating of anniversaries 
has been a popular custom since man began to take note of 
eventful dates in the course of his life. At an earlier age, when 
the burdens of life were more arduous, the hours of labor 
longer and the routine more tedious, the occasion for a cele- 
bration of some kind was an opportunity not to be overlooked. 
It offered an interlude for merry-making in the serious busi- 
ness of life. Many of these festive days were connected with 

52 Strange Ctfstoms of Courtship and Marriage 

seed-time, harvest-time, the changing seasons and other im- 
portant events in the cycle o£ nature. 

In the realm of personal and family life, the wedding an- 
niversary became a favorite occasion for celebration and merry- 
making. Gifts were presented to commemorate the event, and 
it became a tradition to associate a certain article or material 
with the particul^ anniversary. Following are the customary 
wedding anniversaries as they are now generally accepted. 

The First Anniversary 


The Fifth Anniversary 


The Tenth Anniversary 


The Twelfth Anniversary 


The Fifteenth Anniversary 


The Twentieth Anniversary 


The Twenty-fifth Anniversary 


The Thirtieth Anniversary’ 


The Thirty-fifth Anniversary 

Jade or Coral 

The Fortieth Anniversary 


The Forty-fifth Anniversary 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 


The Fifty-fifth Anniversary 


The Sixtieth Anniversary 


All lists of this kind, of course, are somewhat arbitrary, and 
in more recent years they have been considerably augmented 
and commercialized. The tradition, however, is a time-honored 
one, although through popular custom the silver and golden 
wedding anniversaries are celebrated more than any others. 


Kissing Customs 

Origin of the Kiss— The contact of the lips in the kiss is an 
inspired discovery and development of the Western World. 
Strange as it may seem to us of European heritage, the kiss was 
imknown in many parts of the world until Western explorers, 
travelers and missionaries carried their customs to the remote 
parts of our planet. Even today it is not the preferred form of 
intimate expression of love or affectionate greeting among 
most peoples in Asia, Africa, the Eskimo domains, Polynesia 
and other distant lands where the aboriginal customs still hold 

Authorities tell us that the impulse to kiss is not innate to 
man; that it has been developed gradually, and has only ac- 
quired by degrees a relation to the erotic sphere. Havelock 
Ellis regards the love-kiss as a development from the primitive 
maternal kiss and from the nursing of the infant at the 
mother’s breast, which are customary even where the erotic 
kiss is unknown. Out of these maternal caresses grew the kiss 
of love and affection, of devotion and reverence, that we know 

Like many other quirks of human nature, the development 
of the kiss indicates a curious paradox in the pattern of human 
actions. Kissing as a manner of showing afEection is said to 
have been comparatively a late development in mankind’s 
repertoire of caresses. Certainly, the custom caimot be traced 

54 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

as a form of affection in antiquity with any degree of posi- 

In all the Celtic tongues, we are told, there is no word for 
“kiss”. The custom of kissing appears to have been acquired 
by the Celts long after it became a racial habit of most other 
Europeans. Homer scarcely knew it, and the Greek poets, 
faithful portrayer^ of the customs of their time, seldom men- 
tion it. 

On the other hand, actions resembling and analogous to the 
kiss are found among a great many animals. Birds use their 
bills as a form of caress. Even snails and certain insects caress 
antennae. The dog who licks his master is expressing the phys- 
ical attribute of the kiss, and perhaps the canine equivalent of 
the sentimental. Dogs also lick each other as a form of greet- 
ing. Man’s closest relations in the animal world, the simians, 
are addicted to kissing. But, then, the subhuman primates are 
confirmed experimentalists and notorious sensualists, so they 
may have discovered its merits from the application of their 
tireless curiosity. 

Anatomically, the kiss is the ideal mode of expression of 
love and affection, as the lips are the seat of a particularly 
sensitive area, or erogenous zone, especially<||ubject to erotic 
stimulation. As a stimulus of love, of course, the kiss must 
carry the fire and force of conviction. Byron, himself no tyro 
in the arts of love, recognized this when he wrote: 

A long, long kiss, a kiss of youth and love, 

And beauty, all concentrating like rays 
Into one focus kindled from above; 

Such kisses as belong to early days, 

Where heart and soul and sense in concert move. 

And the blood’s lava, and the pulse a blaze. 

Each kiss a heart-quake — for a kiss’s strength, 

I think it must be reckoned by its length. 

Kissing Customs 55 

A Pledge of Love. — ^The kiss has a special significance as a 
pledge of love, or, as has been more euphoniously expressed, 
the seal with which lovers plight their troth. It has also been 
defined by the physiologist Burdach as the symbol of the 
union of souls, analogous to the galvanic contact between a 
positively and a negatively electrified body. 

Even those who habitually treat the kiss lightly, perhaps 
scarcely less casual than a handshake, reserve a special place in 
their emotional potential for the kiss of fealty and affection. 

In some communities, it was, and still is among certain 
people, considered improper for a girl to permit a man to kiss 
her until he has asked her to marry him, and she has accepted. 
In our present modern world, this extreme attitude is looked 
upon as a provincial one, more typical of another age. 

The nuptial kiss of the bride and groom is an important 
feature of the marriage ceremonial. Aside from that, however, 
kissing the bride has had special significance among various 
peoples, and has been widely prevalent throughout Europe 
and among people of European derivation. It is still indulged 
in among all but the most dignified social groups. — ' 

Quoting from an old Scottish source, we are told that “the 
parson who presided over the marriage ceremony uniformly 
claimed it as his inalienable privilege to have a smack at the 
lips of the bride immediately after the performance of his 
official duties.” It was firmly believed that the happiness of 
every bride depended in no small measure upon the pastoral 
kiss. As the pastor found the duty agreeable, he saw no reason 
itd take issue with this popular belief. 

The Scotch, in particular, were much impressed with the 
importance of the bridal kiss. In some parts of Scotland, after 
the marriage ceremony, the bride was expected to proceed 
around the wedding company, attended by her maidens, and 

56 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

kiss every one of the males present. A dish was then passed 
around, in which those so favored placed some money. This 
thrifty custom seems limited to Scotland. At Bourges, it was 
the practice for the brides on coming out of church to embrace 
all whom they met in the street, and in the province of Marche 
they were said to do so before the marriage service. 

One of the earliest definite instances of kissing as an expres- 
sion of love and affection is related by Leybard, the famous 
saint of Tours of the sixth century, who gave his betrothed “a 
ring, a kiss and a pair of shoes.” The symbolism, in the order 
given, is thus indicated: The ring to bind thepi together; the 
kiss to seal the pledge of affection; the shoes, as a sign of his 
utter subjection to her. 

Even in early medieval Europe, it seems probable that the 
kiss was not widely given a'l an expression of sexual or erotic 
sentiment. It appears to have been a refinement of love 
practiced only by the more cultivated social groups. It is only 
in a comparatively high stage of civilization that the kiss has 
been emphasized and cultivated in the art of love. Among 
rude and uncultivated peoples it was not developed. 

Erasmus mentions that when he visited England he found 
kissing a widely practiced and general form of greeting. Upon 
his arrival at a house, the visitor kissed his host and hostess, 
all their children, and even the dog and cat — so relates the 
great Renaissance scholar. 

From a fifteenth-century historian we learn that a young 
lady of rank in France, at that time, would rise in the midst 
of divine service, inconveniencing all those about her, in order 
to kiss on the mouth the cavalier who entered the church at 
the moment. 

France proved a fertile field for the appreciation and de- 
velopment of the kiss, and it was soon firmly established in the 

Kissing Customs 57 

pursuits of courtship and love. Montaigne remarked that in his 
country it was the privilege of any Jack with three lackeys to 
kiss almost any woman he chose. The dance embrace afforded 
an excellent opportunity, or excuse, and the popular dance 
figures were those that introduced a kiss in the proceedings. 

Louis XII is stated to have conferred the royal benediction 
in the form of a kiss on every woman in Normandy. Perhaps 
that was a pleasant means of building up popularity and 
entrenching his throne. Today, politicians advance their cause 
and personal popularity by kissing babies. Kissing for popular- 
ity, however, is as old as Absalom. 

The example set by France quickly spread over most of 
Europe. In Russia, not given to inhibitions, the kiss is said to 
have become epidemic in scope. A kiss from the Czar was 
esteemed as one of the highest forms of official recognition. 

As a contrasting example, let us look at the status of the 
kiss among the urban Italians of the same period. The oscula- 
tory salutation was treated so seriously that if a maiden was 
kissed by a, young man in public, it practically made marriage 
obligatory. Rowdies frequented the streets, which at best were 
no place for a young girl unless escorted. Historians of the 
period tell us that there was always the danger of a subtle sally 
from amorous eyes, or some familiarity, such as a kiss, from 
some undesirable admirer or needy youth who wished by this 
means to force a marriage. 

We are told that even church was not a safe refuge for 
girls unescorted. In Venice young women of the wealthier 
classes always went to church hidden by long white veils, and 
accompanied by male escorts, or even armed retainers, accord- 
ing to their circumstances. 

Early in the sixteenth century, Pierto Lando, afterwards 
doge, but then podesta at Padua, ordered his own natural soq 

58 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

to be decapitated for the offense of kissing a girl, with whom 
he was in love, in the public street. 

The Kiss as a Sacred Pledge. — ^In the Eastern World, the 
kiss was early associated with sacred uses, which seems to 
account for its practical omission in the sphere of love and 
affection. The ancient Arabians made their devotions to the 
gods by a kiss. TJhe house gods were so greeted upon entering 
and leaving. 

There is evidence to indicate that the tactile kiss, whose 
usage has been our cherished heritage, originated in ancient 
times in Asia Minor — where the vassal kissed liis suzerain and 
where the kiss of love held some sway, as is gleaned from the 
Hebraic Song of Songs — ^“Let him kiss me with the kisses of 
his mouth.” 

In ancient Rome, too, the kiss indicated the sentiments of 
reverence and respect far more than those of love. This influ- 
ence left its impress on the early Christians, to whom it had 
almost sacramental meaning. It still retains its ancient and 
sacred significance to a great extent in the practices of both 
the Eastern and Western Churches. Thus, the kiss is bestowed 
upon the relics of saints, the foot of the Pope, the hands of 
bishops, just as the ancients kissed the images of their gods. 
Kissing the hand or the foot as a mark of homage or respect 
has been known from the very earliest times. 

Even in our secular life, until comparatively recently, the 
sacredness of the kiss was legally recognized in the form of 
taking an oath by kissing the Bible, now generally superseded 
by laying the right hand on the book and raising the left hand. 
In taking the serious pledge of induction into high political 
office, the kiss is still sometimes preferred. 

Kissing as a form of obeisance also existed among primitives, 
who did not know its significance in the realm of love — ^per- 

Kissing Customs 59 

haps because love, as we know it, held little or no significance 
to them. Among 'some African tribes the natives kiss the 
ground over which a chief has trod, as a sign of their reverence. 
The Australian aborigines kissed the ground, or more literally, 
breathed upon it, as a form of greeting and show of respect. 
The olfactory sense, incidentally, is closely bound up with the 
kiss, or its analogous manifestation — such as nose-rubbing, 
etc. — in many parts of the world. 

The Olfactory, or Smell-Kiss. — ^The kiss as known to man 
may involve either the sense of touch or that of smell, occa- 
sionally both. Our kiss of European origin is mainly tactile, 
or related to the sense of touch. 

A form of salutation, however, that has much wider vogue 
throughout the world is the olfactory kiss, involving primarily 
the sense of smell, although it may at the same time in some 
instances simulate our tactile kiss. This type of kiss has repre- 
sentation even in Europe, among the Laplanders and the 
Russian Yakuts, both of Asiatic social heritage. It is the pre- 
dominant form of kiss in Asia, Africa, Polynesia and other 
parts of the world, including some of the aborigines of the 

There are variations of the olfactory kiss, but a typical form 
is practiced in these three phases: (a) the nose is applied to 
the cheek of the person kissed; (b) there is a long nasal in- 
halation accompanied by the lowering of the eyelids; (c) 
followed by a slight smacking of the lips without the applica- 
tion of the mouth to the recipient’s cheek. The procedure is 
predicated on the sense of smell. 

It is said that the Chinese who have not become enamored 
of Western ways consider the European kiss as highly objec- 
tionable from the esthetic standpoint, being suggestive of 
ravenous cannibals. Native mothers in French Indo-China 

66 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

frighten their children by threatening to give theutf a white 
man’s kiss. 

The Chinese regard their form of kiss as an expression of 
sexuality, appropriate only to lovers. Fathers refrain from kiss- 
ing their children except when very young, and even mothers 
rarely indulge in the practice, and then surreptitiously. 

In Japanese literature kisses and embraces simply do not 
exist, as they are unknown as tokens of affection in Nipponese 
life. Japanese mothers may hug and caress their young chil- 
dren, as mothers do the world over, but after babyhood there 
is no more hugging and lipping. Except in the case of infants, 
such actions are regarded as immodest. Girls do not kiss one 
another; nor do parents kiss or embrace their children after 
they are able to walk. This is true of all classes. 

Among the tribes of 56utheast India who practice the 
olfactory kiss, instead of saying to the loved one, “kiss me”, 
it is the custom to say in the native vernacular, “smell me.” 

Among other variations of olfactory osculation may be 
mentioned the following: The tribesman on the Gambia in 
Africa who greets a woman takes her hand and places it to 
his nose, twice smelling the back of it.. The native mothers 
on the Niger coast rub their babies with cheek, nose and 
mouth, but do not kiss them. Lovers, likewise, do not kiss, 
although they cuddle, squeeze and embrace. 

In Samoa kissing is analogous to smelling. The North 
American Eskimo practices only the olfactory kiss, as did the 
Blackfeet and some other Indian tribes, although kissing of 
any kind seems to have been unknown to many of the North 
and South American aborigines, as was also the case among 
the Dyaks of the Malay archipelago. 

The smell kiss is typical of Polynesia. In New Zealand nose- 
pressing, or the hongi, is the native kiss of welcome and sym- 

Kissing Customs 6i 

pathy. It is said that in Borneo kissing is a kind of smelling, 
and the word interpretative of smelling is used to indicate the 
act. A visitor to that country states he never saw a native kiss a 
woman. It is always done in private, indicating its voluptuous 

It has been suggested that the reason the olfactory kiss has 
prevailed almost exclusively among primitive peoples is that 
in the lower stage of humanity — as in the animal world — the 
sense of smeU is a much more important factor than it is in 
the case or civilized man. The love zone of the primitive, as 
well as his nutritive zone, is more intimately related to his 
sense of smell. In the life of civilized man, on the other hand, 
the olfactory sense has been relegated to a relatively unimpor- 
tant position among the senses. Being farther removed from 
primordial nature, the sense of smell is not so important as a 
life-sustaining factor, and its influence diminishes in all spheres 
of activity. 

In civilized man, sight is the paramount esthetic sense with 
respect to sex, as well as to other phases of his cultural life. 
It is the first messenger of love. By means of this sense, color 
and form become the primary media of sexual stimulus. The 
sense of sight conveys the first total impression of the beloved 
personality. Sexual interest and attraction are always first de- 
pendent uponj^i^t. Of all the factors that enter into the 
choice of the loved one, the sense of sight is unquestionably 

The Erotic Significance of the Kiss.— As sexual love has 
been described by physiologists as a higher, specialized form 
of tactile sensation, the kiss plays an extremely important role 
in the refinement of the art of love. 

It is impossible even to think of the tender, consummate 
embrace of two lovers without the lingering rapture of the 

62 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

kiss. But among human beings of baser disposition, the mani- 
festation of their “love” may be no more than a crude expres- 
sion of the sense of touch. 

The kiss sets off the reverberating, electrifying spark of 
voluptuous sensation that permeates to the innermost parts of 
our being. It is part and parcel of the love-play that leads 
normally to the realization of the sexual acme. However in- 
nocent a lover’s kiss may appear, it is never wholly asexual, 
and constitutes a stage between desire and possession. 

Surfaced by a tissue of full-blooded, sensitive membranes, 
moistened by the honey of salivary sweetness, shaped at their 
loveliest into a curvature that has been likened to Cupid’s 
Bow, the lips seem especially contrived by nature for their role 
of allurement into the labyrinths of love. 

In its sensory impulses,’‘*'the kiss is the most direct prelude 
and incitement to sexual fulfilment. It is for this reason that 
restraint and discrimination should be the watchword of those 
who understand the real meaning and importance of the kiss 
and hold in high regard the sacredness of the love forces 
which its casual bestowal may unwittingly release. 

The Love-Bite. — It may seem like a contradiction of terms 
to speak of the “love-bite”, but the phrase has a place and a 
definite meaning in the story of the kiss. It is perhaps an 
intensification of the tactile kiss under the stress of voluptuous 
excitement. It is usually playful — a tantalizing, controlled 
“bite” to increase sexual feeling — ^but among peoples of ardent 
temperament and unrestrained impulses, it may assume the 
proportions of mild or extreme sadism. 

The love-bite is essentially a primitive expression of sexual 
ardor, more typical of hardy-living, lusty peoples, but it is not 
unknown among highly cultivated individuals. It may be play- 
fully enacted in connection with the familiar expression, “T 

Kissing Customs 63 

could eat you,” or the wild kisses of passionate love may take 
the form of uncontrolled frenzy. 

Among the Southern Slavs, it is said the custom of biting one 
another is general. This indicates the presence of mutual 
masochistic tendencies, as evidenced by the patience with 
which pain is borne when it has a voluptuous tinge, as well as 
sadistic propensities. 

Its place in the normal fulfilment of ardent love is indicated 
by the heroine of Kleist’s Penthesilea, who aptly remarks: 
“Kiisse (kissing) rhymes with Bisse (biting), and one who 
loves with the whole heart may easily confound the two.” 

It has been suggested that the erotic kiss is a sublimation of 
the amorous bite; the difference is quantitative rather than 

Kissing as a Pastime. — Kissing as a pastime, modernly 
known as petting, is by no means a modern innovation. The 
outward forms of old customs change, but inherently there is 
little difference in the nature of the practice. The twentieth- 
century automobile, with its comforts and conveniences, has 
done much to establish “petting” as a household term, and to 
create the legend of its modernity. 

Kissing along the roadside, however, occurred in the horse- 
and-buggy days, whether known as “spooning” or “mooning”; 
nor was it exclusively associated with the equestrian-minded. 
Pedestrians, too, have strolled down lover’s lane and its by- 
ways, have spooned and necked and petted and kissed from 
time immemorial. 

The great Scottish bard of love, Robert Burns, in another era, 
posed the delicate question whether, “Gin a body meet a 
body commg through the rye; gin a body kiss a body, need a 
body cry?” 

The answer may be in the length and ardor of the kiss, and 

64 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

whether it ignited a spark of love that was, well, not wise! 
Like most of Burns’ superb, immortal lines, it is likely that 
this query was prompted by an amorous episode from the 
book of his own life. If so, he doubtless knew the answer to 
his own riddle. 

The literature of the Western World is without limit in its 
treatment of tlje subject of the kiss, and kissing. It is the inex- 
haustible theme of popular songs of our time. Stolen kisses, 
kisses that linger, kisses in the moonlight, kisses in June, 
kisses any time, anywhere — but kisses, kisses! 

The motion picture has been a worldwide medium for pub- 
licizing the technique of the Hollywood kiss. Some State 
Boards of Censorship put a stop-watch on the film to make 
certain that the endurance of the osculation does not exceed 
the prescribed limit of ilme fixed by the Board. The com- 
munion of lips that does not linger beyond the specified time 
is deemed an innocent kiss that may properly be seen by all 
and sundry. The one thaL extends over the time limita tion is 
banned as destructive to public morals ! 

Kissing as a forfeit is a part of many old games and customs. 
Catching a girl standing under the mistletoe is one of the most 
famiUar instances. In c ojonial New- EnglanH, if a man suc- 
ceede d in ga ining possession of a girl’s glove s, acedrding to 
custQm,- h ^ cqultLclai m a kiss as forfeit for their return. There 
is an old English custom analogous to this, although acting 
somewhat in reverse: If a man is caught sleeping and is kissed 
by a woman, he is obliged to present her with a pair of gloves. 

There are a number of so-called kissing games which were 
popular in the parlor entertainment era, in which the kiss 
takes place as a forfeit at some point in the game. Such games 
as “Post OflSce,” “Pillow,” “Drop the Handkerchief,” and “In 
a Well” are representative of this group. 

Kissing Customs 65 

In the game of whist that was popular before its almost 
total eclipse by contract bridge, it was the custom in some 
circles that if the four cards played to a trick ever fell in the 
sequence of ace (one), deuce (two), three and four, the per- 
son playing the fourth card might claim a kiss of the dealer — 
if the dealer happened to be someone he wished to kiss! 

Some of the old English folksongs, such as “The Farmer in 
the Dell,” “King William Was King James’s Son,” and “The 
Needle’s Eye” used as ring-games by children, have kissing as 
an integral part. 

The old nursery remedy of “Kiss it and make it well” proves 
quite efficacious in drying the tears and assuaging the minor 
hurts and bruises of babyhood. Incidentally, it seems a natural 
instinct to put^a hurt finger or hand to. tbfjmouth. 

The Platonic Kiss. — ^Therc is the salutation of the kiss as 
a form of greeting, which may be either casual or formal, 
among men. This kiss, which may be given on both cheeks, or 
either cheek, is prevalent in France and certain other parts of 
continental Europe. It is often part of the greeting in formal 
ceremonies when eminent dignitaries meet. In itself, it prob- 
ably has little more significance than the conventional hand- 
shake of the English-speaking world, but is an added gesture, 
expressive of the vivacity and effervescence of the Latin tem- 
perament. In any event it may be considered a platonic, or 
passionless, kiss. Probably in the case of the formal ceremonial 
salutation, particularly among high political dignitaries, it may 
sometimes turn out to be a Judas-kiss. 

In the same countries, kissing among male relatives and 
intimate friends as a greeting, or even at casual meetings, is 
quite common. Kissing among adults as a form of greeting in 
countries of the English-speaking world is almost exclusively 
restricted to the' female sex, or between men and women. 

66 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

It is also customary in some of the continental European 

countries, in the more formal social circles, for the gentleman 

to kiss the lady’s hand as a greeting. This form of salutation, 

which takes the place of the handshake, is sometimes seen in 

this country when practiced by visiting foreigners. Some of 

our own repatriated countrymen, after living abroad, may 

affect the usage, as evidence of their cosmopolitan manner. 

Kissing by Correspondence. — ^No treatise on kissing would 

be complete without mention of the lover’s kiss in the epistle 

of love. The row of crosses or “x’s” at the foot of the letter is 

as unmistakable as the contact of the lips, if less satisfying. 
A more sophisticated method, however, for the modern maid 
to show the seal of her affection is to make it quite literal: Lips 
well rouged by the lipstick, when pressed to the page of the 
letter, leave an impression which the recipient will recognize 
as coming direct from the lips of the loved one. 



A Quaint Custom of Courtship. — Bundling is one of the 
quaint practices that seems to have had independent existence 
among alien peoples in widely separated areas of many coun- 
tries. As is now widely known from the rather amusing treat- 
ment of the theme on stage and screen, as well as from more 
serious presentations, the characteristic feature of the custom 
is for a man and woman to lie together in bed without undress- 
ing. Local traditions, national temperament and other factors 
introduced variations of one kind or another, including the 
dividing board, but the identifying feature remained. 

It is commonly thought to have been a custom peculiar to 
early rural New England and some of the other Eastern 
Atlantic states, but it was not essentially Yankee either as 
invention or monopoly. The Yankees merely adopted an old 

This fallacy with respect to origin is due to some extent to 
misinformation from old sources, such as Grose’s Dictionary 
of the Vulgar Tongue, which defined the practice as follows: 
“Bundling— K man and woman lying on the same bed with 
their clothes on; an expedient practiced in America on account 
of a scarcity of beds, where as occasion necessitated, husbands 
and parents frequently permitted travelers to bundle with 
their wives and daughters.” 

Scarcity of beds may have been something of a problem in 


68 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

early colonial America, but it is doubtful if this had much to 
do with bundling. It was often necessary to double up, and 
perhaps triple and quadruple up, in bed in the early days, but 
this could ordinarily be arranged without bundling travelers 
indiscriminately with wives and daughters. Public inns also 
permitted several unassociated guests to sleep together in one 
bed, and to keep their clothes on for the sake of comfort and 
warmth — the only stipulation being that they should remove 
their boots. (Organ-grinders and tinkers slept hi the barn.) 

The phase of bimdling under discussion is that relating to 
courtship — the practice as it involved the joung woman and 
the young man in their courting days, or more literally nights, 
and as a normal but not inevitable preliminary to marriage. 

The rigors of climate, no less than the limitation of house- 
hold facilities, seem to lilve been a large factor in the custom, 
as it prevailed not only in New England and the adjacent 
states, but throughout the countries of Northern Europe, Eng- 
land, Scodand, Wales, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Germany 
and Switzerland, and doubtless other countries of similar cul- 
ture and climate. 

Each country had its major or minor variations, and also its 
rules governing the ethics of the practice. These latter varied 
all the way from very strict regulations, with severe penalties 
for violations, to the greatest possible freedom of conduct. 

In Holland, it is said that if the lover exceeded the limits set 
by custom, he was very harshly dealt with by the people of the 

In New England the winters are long and cold, and at the 
period in question candlelight and fuel were not to be wasted. 
Dwellings generally wer6 far apart. After the young swain had 
done a hard day’s work around his father’s farm and went 
calling on his sweetheart at perhaps a considerable distance. 

Bundling 69 

sittmg in the chilly, dimly lighted room during the evening 
was certainly not conducive either to common comfort or 
romantic thoughts. Under the circumstances, relaxing together 
fully clothed in bed under a warm New England goose-down 
quilt was an understandable, and not illogical, thing to do. 

Perhaps in some cases, as an observer has stated, the young 
man has walked ten or more weary miles on a Sunday evening 
to enjoy the company of his favorite lass. In the few brief hours 
which would elapse before the morning light should call him 
again to his homeward trek and his week’s toil, was it not the 
dictate of humanity, as well as of economy, which prompted 
the old folks to allow the approved and accepted suitor of 
their daughter to pursue his wooing under the downy coverlet 
of a good feather bed — ofttimes in the very same room in which 
they themselves slept — ^rather than have them sit up and burn 
firewood and candles uselessly ? 

In the rural districts, where the practice of bundling chiefly 
occurred, many, perhaps the majority of the dwellings of 
early settlers, consisted of one large room, in which the whole 
family lived and slept. This fact alone would tend to keep 
abuses of the privilege down to a minimum. 

Furthermore, before the intimacy had developed this far, 
it is likely that the couple were engaged, or it was tacidy 
understood they were entering that stage of courtship. 

It is not very likely that every Tom, Dick and Harry called 
on successive evenings to bundle with the daughter of the 
homestead. Bundling was thus more or less a prerogative of 
the engaged couple, or of the couple who were accepted as 
courting with matrimonial intentions. In former times, too, 
the fact of having called at the home of a girl was in itself 
evidence of serious intentions. 

Nevertheless, there were the natural factors of climate. 

70 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

limited household facilities and hardy living that favored the 
custom. As evidence of this, it may be stated that bundling 
took place only in the cold seasons of the year. 

Sociologists tell us that the practice in itself was never proof 
of licentious manners. Generally speaking, the proprieties 
seem usually to have been observed, although lapses in con- 
duct, human nature being what it is, sometimes occurred. 

Bundling was an old institution in both Holland and Eng- 
land, and it is likely that the custom was brought to this coun- 
try by early settlers — the Dutch in New Amsterdam, and the 
English in New England, as reference to it goes back to the 
first settlement. 

Early historians began to write upon the subject when the 
custom was being frowned upon as evidence of rustic coarse- 
ness and vulgarity, or downright bad form, although it con- 
tinued in a decreasing measure long after their words were 
written. Some treated the matter critically; others heaped 
sarcasm upon it. Still others blamed the erring ways of a 
neighboring colony for introducing the custom into their own 

Ministers, particularly in the cities and towns, fulminated 
against the sinful custom. In order to lend discouragement to 
the practice, the more sophisticated element introduced sofas 
into the household. The country people thought the new 
device less proper — a heathen Turkish importation with the 
connotations of the harem — and maintained there was more 
sinning on city sofas than on rural beds. 

The courts, too, were in due course drawn into the con- 
troversy to decide on the legal merits of seduction claims that 
grew out of the practice. By this time the custom was fast 
nearing its end, and the notice of the law was but a final 
gesture to a passing folkway. 


Washington Irving, in his Knickerbocker’s History of New 
York, humorously attributed the practice to the inventive 
genius of the Connecticut Yankees, implying that it fostered 
immorality. He wrote of “the curious device among these 
sturdy barbarians (the Connecticut colonists), to keep up a 
harmony of interests and to promote the population. They 
multiplied to a degree which would be incredible to any man 
unacquainted with the marvelous fecundity of this young 
country. This amazing increase may, indeed, be partly as- 
cribed to a singular custom prevalent among them, commonly 
known by the name of bundling — a superstitious rite observed 
by the young people of both sexes, with which they usually 
terminated their festivities, and which was kept up with reli- 
gious strictness by the more bigoted and vulgar of the com- 

“This ceremony was likewise, in those primitive times, con- 
sidered as an indispensable preliminary to matrimony; their 
courtships commencing where ours usually finish, by which 
means they acquired that intimate acquaintance with each 
other before marriage, which has been pronounced by philoso- 
phers the sure basis of a happy union. Thus early did this 
cunning and ingenious people display a shrewdness at making 
a bargain, which has ever since distinguished them, and a strict 
adherence to the good old vulgar maxim about ‘buying a pig 
in a poke.’ 

“To tliis sagacious custom, therefore, do I chiefly attribute 
the unparalleled increase of the Yanokie or Yankee tribe; for 
it is a certain fact, well authenticated by court records and 
parish registers, that wherever the practice of bundling pre- 
vailed, there was an amazing number of sturdy brats annually 
born unto the state, without the license of the law or the bene- 
fit of clergy. Neither did the irregularity of their birth operate 

72 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

in the least to their disparagement. On the contrary, they grew 
up a long-sided, raw-boned, hardy race of whoreson whalers, 
wood cutters, fishermen and peddlers; and strapping corn- 
fed wenches, who by their united efforts tended marvelously 
toward populating those notable tracts of country called Nan- 
tucket, Piscataway and Cape Cod.” 

Washington, Irving was undoubtedly amusing at the ex- 
pense of being accurate. The Reverend Samuel Peters of the 
same Connecticut came heartily to the defense both of his 
state and the custom of bundling, testifying to the modesty 
and virtue of their women. 

The beginning of the decline of bundling seems to have 
come about in New England and adjacent states in the late 
eighteenth century, when the more fastidious members of the 
population began to decry the custom and forbade the practice 
under their roof. As late as 1776, a clergyman from one of the 
more conventional towns went into the country and is said to 
have preached against the unchristian custom of young men 
and maidens lying together on a bed. Upon leaving the church, 
he was besieged by the women of the congregation who re- 
sented his strictures and their reflections upon themselves and 
their daughters. 

Other defenders of the custom, testifying to the high esteem 
in which it was held, said there was something satisfying and 
homey to the domestic instinct in having the old ladies, as 
often happened, look in before retiring to see that the bun- 
dling couple were comfortable, and possibly tuck them in or 
put on more bed clothes, if necessary. 

Most of the old timers who lived through the heyday of the 
practice and saw its decline insisted “there wasn’t any more 
mischief done in those days than there is now.” 

Dr. Henry Reed Stiles, in his book on the subject, states that 

Bundling 73 

the custom was widely practiced among the Dutch settlers in 
Pennsylvania, and that traces of it continued down well into 
the nineteenth century. He cites the case of an old schoolmas- 
ter in his teaching experience in Southern Pennsylvania. The 
schoolmaster used to board around, and when it was not con- 
venient to go to his usual boarding place for the time being, 
he was accustomed to stop at a tavern kept by an honest old 

On one occasion, having asked the landlord if he could stay 
overnight, he was told he could, and after chatting with his 
host through the evening, was shown to bed. The landlord 
set down the candle and had gone out of the room, when the 
schoolmaster noticed that the only bed in the room was 
already occupied, and calling to his host, informed him of the 
fact. He replied over his shoulder: “Oh! dat ish only mine 
taughter, she won’t hurt nopoty,” and went on his way. 

Visitors, unfamiliar with bundling, uniformly remarked 
how innocently those accustomed to it looked upon the prac- 
tice. The open sanction of the custom by the parents and the 
community must have had the effect of inspiring in the 
young folks a sense of restraint from what was known to be 
wrong, and a strong incentive to doing right. There was, too, 
the close supervision by the elders that was inevitable on ac- 
count of the limitation of space in the home. 

Tarrying. — A somewhat similar custom, known as tarrying, 
is reported as having had a considerable following in certain 
parts of the colonies concurrently with and subsequent to the 
reign of bundling. Under this practice, when a young man 
wished to marry a girl, he made known his intention to the 
parents. If they were agreeable, he was allowed to tarry with 
her for one night, in order to pay his court. 

At the usual time the parents retired to bed, leaving the 

74 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

young folks to settle matters as best they could. After having 
sat up as long as the conventions seemed to require, they got in 
bed together, but without taking off their underclothes. If the 
parties were still of the same mind by morning, all was consid- 
ered well. The banns were published and the marriage took 
place without delay. If the tarrying did not work out to the 
satisfaction of ^he couple, they parted, possibly never to see 
each other again. 

The final disappearance of bundling as a social custom in 
America has been attributed to a number of causes. First and 
foremost, of course, was the gradual elimination of the princi- 
pal factors which did so much to start it and make it popular. 
That is, housing and living facilities were much improved, 
dwellings became less isolated as the country became more 
thickly populated, and with the change in these physical ele- 
ments, there gradually came a change of mind toward the 

With the development of a more fastidious and conven- 
tional viewpoint, what had been looked upon as a homely and 
harmless custom and an evidence of warm-hearted hospitality 
became an anachronism — something not quite decent or re- 
spectable, and at the same time a little ridiculous, as the many 
barbs of derision and ridicule that were hurled at it fully 

Bundling in Other Lands. — ^The custom in England, Scot- 
land and Northern Continental Europe, while much older 
than in its transplanted form in America — shaving been a social 
inheritance from feudal times — ^nevertheless passed out in 
much the same manner. It had outlived its usefulness and its 

Not only has bundling been traced to numerous countries 
and provinces in the feudal ages-r-being distinctly a practice 

Bundling 75 

of rural people, of rude social status — ^but Professor William 
Graham Sumner states that the Christians in the third and 
fourth centuries practiced it, even without the limiting condi- 
tions which were set in the Middle Ages. Bundling was a 
means then used to test themselves by extreme temptation. It 
was a test or proof of the power of moral rule over natural im- 

A number of sects in the Middle Ages, in renouncing mar- 
riage, introduced tests of great temptation. Individuals, too, 
believing they were practicing holiness by carrying on the 
battle between “the flesh” and “the spirit” subjected them- 
selves to similar tests. 

For centuries bundling, or analogous customs, prevailed in 
all sections of the British Isles. Even at the time of the Roman 
conquest the promiscuous sleeping together which prevailed 
there led Caesar to consider the Britons polyandrous polyga- 
mists. Other ancient writers offered similar comment. This 
was bundling in its crudest primordial form. 

The social histories of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales 
all abound in stories of courtship and marriage customs that 
come within the sociological order of bundling. Very often 
each section had its own peculiar variation, and with it there 
developed an ethic which they recognized and respected, 
although it may have been lost to an outside observer, who 
saw only the crudity of the practice. For instance, there was the 
so-called “island custom” of Portland, England, which lasted 
well into the nineteenth century. 

According to the custom of this locality a woman before 
marriage lived with her lover until pregnant and then married 
him. She was always strictly faithful to him while they lived 
together, but if no pregnancy occurred the couple might de- 
cide that they were not meant for each other, and break off re- 

76 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

lations. As a result, for a long period of years no illegitimate 
children were born, and few marriages were childless. 

With the development of the Portland stone industry, work- 
men were imported from London who promptly took advan- 
tage of the convenient “island custom”, but refysed to fulfil 
the obligation of marriage when pregnancy occurred. This 
outside trifling, and playing false with what was a long estab- 
lished, seriously considered local custom caused the custom to 
fall into disuse. 

The social conditions of primitive, rural Wales, like those of 
the other Celtic countries — Scotland and Ireland — are said to 
have been more rude in the sexual relationships than in Eng- 
land at a comparable period. Always, however, we find at the 
root of these problems that all-pervading nemesis of early hu- 
manity — poverty. Richard Twiss, in his Travels, described the 
custom in eighteenth-century Ireland. 

B. B. Woodward, in his history of Wales, re-creates the fol- 
lowing picture of the domestic habits of the people at an 
earlier period : At night a bed of rushes was laid down along 
one side of the hovel, covered with a coarse kind of cloth, 
made in the country, called brychan. All the household lay 
down on this bed in common, without changing their gar- 
ments. The fire was kept burning through the night, and the 
sleepers kept warm by lying huddled closely. When, by the 
hardness of their bed, one side was wearied, they got up, sat 
by the fire for a while, and then lay down again on the other 

It was this custom of promiscuous sleeping that accounted 
for what was considered by many observers at a much later 
date as a great moral laxness among the population, with an 
absence of feminine delicacy among the women. Out of this 
aboriginal practice, which influenced the amatory life of the 

Bundling 77 

Welsh peasants, developed the bundling of court^p in it* 
characteristic form. 

The custom of handfasting among the old Scotch* which 
ivill be considered in a subsequent chapter, bore a close rela- 
tionship to the sexual habits already described. Suffice to say 
at this point that a witness before the Royal Commission on 
the Marriage Laws in 1868 testified that “night visiting” (a 
form of bundling) was still common among the laboring 
classes in some parts of Scotland. In extenuation, the witness 
said they have no other means of intercourse. It vra* contrary 
to custom for a lover to visit his sweetheart by day — doubtless 
because he did not have the time, and the lass had no time for 
him either. The parents condoned the practice because ‘Thek 
daughters must have husbands and there is no other way of 

The custom had considerable vogue and no littk pitesdgc in 
Holland under the name of queesten. It is said that parents 
encouraged it. A girl who had no qucester was considered 
lacking in some desirable feminine qualities. The houses in 
the country were built for the convenience of the custom. We 
are told that in 1666-1667 every house on the island of Texel 
had an opening under the window where the lover could enter 
so as to sit on the bed and spend the night making love to the 
daughter of the house. 

So stringent was the code of the folkway governing the prac- 
tice that rarely did any harm occur. If it did, the man was 
mobbed and wounded or killed. The custom can be traced in 
North Holland down to the eighteenth century. 

In Norway the practice was called night-running, on account 
of the long distance between the homesteads. The routine in 
that country was for the girl to put on several extra skirts and 
go to bed. In due time the young man entered by the door or 

78 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

window and took his place in bed alongside of her. They 
talked all night, or until overcome by weariness and fell asleep. 

The custom existed among the peasants of Germany down 
to recent times, but in some sections it was restricted to one 
night in the month, or certain nights in the year. 

Among all peoples who practiced bimdling everywhere 
there seems to have been the common denominator of pov- 
erty, or at least the necessity of observing the utmost economy. 
It was essentially a rural custom among hard-working, frugal- 
living peasants who after their day’s toil found an occasional 
evening free to answer the call of the mating instinct. 


Primitive Marriage Practices 

Promiscuity. — ^We have already observed Westermarck’s 
theory that marriage in some form, however shadowy the out- 
line may have been in many instances, has existed from the 
beginning of human society. We also have the testimony oi 
other anthropologists that the sexual relationship at the earli- 
est stages of mankind must inevitably have been promiscuous, 
a sort of indiscriminate sexual communism. 

In support of the latter contention, we have a great deal of 
evidence from pioneer investigators of primitives within his- 
toric times, and also of sociologists, ethnologists and other pro- 
fessional observers of human nature in its most uninhibited 
state in modern times. 

Primitive man, in whom the sexual impulse was still purely 
instinctive, of course, had no knowledge of marriage in any- 
thing approaching the modern sense. At the lowest level it is 
probable that the men in a horde or tribe or clan cohabited 
quite indiscriminately with the women of the group. If there 
were any distinctions made, or preferences shown, they were 
probably based on physical force. This, however, does not 
alter the fact of the promiscuous relationship. Under those 
conditions it was of course impossible to determine the pa- 
ternity of children, so that the offspring belonged to their 
mothers or to the tribe. 


8o Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

Group Marriage. — In the case of the smaller nomadic units, 
this promiscuous relationship within the group may well have 
resembled what Westermarck designated as a form of mar- 
riage. This would be considered an example of group mar- 
riage, a practice that has had considerable prevalence both in 
ancient and, among uncivilized races, in more recent times. 

Group marriage is the marriage of one totem with another — 
that is, the men of one totem group marry the women of an- 
other, and vice versa. No individual man, however, has any 
particular wife. To illustrate, if twelve men of the first totem 
married twelve women of the second totem, then each one 
of the dozen men has an equal share of each of the dozen 
women, and vice versa. 

This, of course, represents an advance over unrestricted sex- 
«ul promiscuity, and is the basis of family life in many primi- 
tive societies. Group marriages have existed down to recent 
years — ^and perhaps even at the present time — among the 
Australian aborigines and certain other primitives. 

The prevalence of group marriage among our own early 
ancestors is revealed in the following statement of Julius 
Caesar, in his description of the marital practices of ancient 
Britain: “The husbands possess their wives to the number of 
ten or twelve in common, and more especially brothers with 
brothers, or parents with children.” This is a special form of 
group marriage, there being variations in the detailed arrange- 
ment according to the folkways that shaped the social life of 
the people. 

Polyandry — the espousal of one woman and several men — 
is also regarded by some authorities as the vestige of a primi- 
tive form of group marriage, arising from a deficiency of 
women in a totem. Under this arrangement one woman was 

Primitive Marriage Practices 8i 

left as the representative of a totem married to several hus- 

Mythology, which arises from the beliefs and practices of 
the childhood of humanity, confirms the indiscriminate and 
unrestrained sexual relationships of prehistoric times. In the 
Indian myth Brama is wedded to his own daughter Saravasti. 
The same myth occurs among the Egyptians and in the Norse 

The Egyptian god, Ammon, was the husband of his mother, 
and boasted of the fact; and Odin, the Norse god, is referred 
to as the husband of one of his own daughters. The sexual rela- 
tionship of certain of the Egyptian dynastic rulers in early 
historic times bears out the analogy of the myth to fact. If we 
were as well acquainted with the marital customs of India and 
the Norse countries at a corresponding period, it is likely that 
we should find similar practices, as we do indeed among cer- 
tain savage tribes. 

Writers of Greco-Latin antiquity have cited numerous 
graphic instances of promiscuity in actual practice. Strabo re- 
lates that “throughout the Troglodyte country the people lead 
a nomad life. Each tribe has its chief, or tyrant. The women 
and the children are possessed in common, with the exception 
of the wives and children of the chief, and whoever is guilty 
of adultery with one of the wives of the chief is punished by 
a fine consisting of the payment of a goat.” 

Herodotus described the Agathyrses (Scythians) as the 
most delicate of men, their ornaments being chiefly of gold. 
They have their women in common, he reported, in order that 
they may all be brothers, and that, being so nearly related, they 
may feel neither hatred nor envy toward each other. 

In the Andaman Islands, the women were said to have been 
held in common until quite recently. Every woman belonged 

82 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

to all the men of the tribe, and resistance to any of them was a 
crime severely punished. 

According to Major Ross King, some aboriginal tribes of 
India, notably the Kouroumbas and the Iroulas, have no idea 
of marriage, and live in promiscuity. The only prohibitory 
rule consisted in not having intimate relations with a person 
belonging to another class or caste. 

Strabo afErmed a similar practice among the Celtic popula- 
tion of ancient lerne (Ireland). The custom seems to have 
been prevalent in antiquity throughout the British Isles, which 
were then inhabited by various barbarous tuibes or clans, as 
noted by explorers from the Mediterranean civilization. 

Dr. Adolf Bastian, in describing his travels in the Orient, 
reports that in Swaganwara the daughters of the Rajah en- 
joyed the privilege of freely choosing their husbands. Four 
brothers who settled in Kapilapur made Priya, the eldest of 
their five sisters, queen-mother, and married the others. 

The Consanguineous Family. — ^Lewis H. Morgan, the 
American ethnologist, who did so much to interpret the form 
of family life and social organization of the Indian tribes, par- 
ticularly the Iroquois, indicates the principles of the consan- 
guineous family, which he assumes as a higher form of the 
sexual relation that gradually developed from the state of 
general promiscuity. 

Under this form the marriage groups are arranged by gen- 
erations. All the grandfathers and grandmothers within a cer- 
tain family group are mutually husbands and wives. Their chil- 
dren constitute another cycle of husbands and wives. And, 
again, the children of these, when they have attained the 
proper age, are mutually married. 

This may be described as a form of group marriage limited 

Primitive Marriage Practices 83 

to one generation. Brothers and sisters and cousins of the first, 
second and more remote grades are all acknowledged as 
brothers and sisters, and also as husbands and wives. 

Morgan, through his long study of Indian life in particular 
and of ethnology in general, which included living for years 
with the existing tribes as a virtual member of the group, did 
more than any other authority to throw a revealing light upon 
their forms of social organization and government. He was 
the first to discover the identity existing between the totem 
groups of the North American Indian and the gentile organiza- 
tions of the Romans. 

The most famous cases of consanguineous marriage within 
historic times, of course, are those of the Egyptian dynastic 
ruling family, the Ptolemies, who habitually married their sis- 
ters, cousins and nieces. 

Custom of Exchanging Wives.— The custom of temporarily 
exchanging wives and lending wives to visitors has been ob- 
served in many parts of the world. Among the Banyankoles in 
Central Africa, when a man and his wife visited a friend, they 
invariably exchanged wives during the time of the visit. A 
similar custom prevailed among the natives of the Hawaiian 

Marco Polo wrote that in Eastern Tibet no man considered 
it dishonorable if a foreigner had relations with his wife 01 
daughter or sister or other woman of the family. On the com 
trary, it was deemed an act of good fortune. Such was their 
superstition that they considered it would bring the favor of 
their gods and idols, and presaged an increase in temporal 

Among others it was thought that the lending of their wives 
to foreigners would result in nobler offspring. This is an 

84 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

exogamous concept that has had wide prevalence in one form 
or another among many primitives, often forming part of their 
religious rites. 

The exchanging of wives is still practiced among the Eski- 
mos. It teems to be mutually agreeable to the man and his 
wife. Sometimes the exchange is made for what appears to be 
practical reasons For instance, if a man who is going on a jour- 
ney has a wife encumbered with a child that would add to 
the difSculties of traveling, he may exchange wives with some 
friend who remains in camp and has no such inconvenience. 
Or, a man will want a younger wife to travel with him, in 
which case an exchange can usually be effected. 

It is not necessary to have any particular reason, however, as 
the custom is so thoroughly established in Eskimo folkways 
that among friends it is the usual thing to exchange wives for 
a week or two every few months. At the time of tribal gather- 
ings or general festivities, it is one of the principal diversions. 

Occauonally it turns out that the exchange reveals to both 
couples a more satisfactory or harmonious relation, in which 
case the exchange is made permanent. 

There are also superstitions that govern the exchanging of 
wives. After the incantations of the angaXut are performed in 
the evening among the Hudson Bay Eskimos, it is obligatory 
to exchange wives. The women must spend the night in the 
huts of the men to whom they are assigned. If any woman 
should refuse to go to the man to whom she is assigned, it is 
believed she would be sure to be taken sick. The only stipula- 
tion entering into this ceremonial exchange is that the man 
and the woman in question must not be near relatives. It is also 
believed that the practice is efficacious in averting some great 
trouble, such as pestilence or illness that may threaten them. 

Among the Himalayan mountaineers, the exchange of wives 

Primitive Marriage Practices 85 

was a usual practice when two of the men became disgusted 
with their respective spouses and hoped thereby to effect an 
improved domestic arrangement. 

Magical Significance of Rites.— The relationship between 
marriage, with its normal sequence of offspring, and the pro- 
ductivity of fields has been dramatized by all primitive peo- 
ples. Marriage rites are used that are appropriate to and timely 
with the planting and harvesting of crops, and frequently at 
no other time of the year. Whether the rites are conceived to 
bring productiveness to the marriage, or whether the marriage 
is believed to favorably influence the crops, is a moot question. 
It is quite likely that the belief may embrace both concepts — a 
magic working both ways, stimulating alike the fertility of the 
marriage and of the fields. 

In Morocco marriages are celebrated generally in the 
autumn, at the close of the harvest when the granaries are full 
of corn. In some sections of the country, a wedding is seldom 
known to be performed at any other time. The peasantry of 
many European countries have also favored the autumn, cor- 
responding to the period of the agricultural festival. 

This is notable in its departure from the traditional late 
spring preference, especially the month of June, so much fa- 
vored by the peoples of the English-speaking world. Even this, 
it will be noted, is a seasonal selection of important signifi- 
cance, as it corresponds with the time when the planting sea- 
son is normally completed. 

Among the Brahmans of India there are but four months in 
the year — March, April, May and June — during which mar- 
riage may be celebrated. Only in this season is it considered a 
favorable time for marrying. The plebeians of ancient Rome 
celebrated their great festival, the Cerealia, in honor of Ceres, 
goddess of the grain, during the period April 12-19. 

86 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

In China, too, the spring season is especially favored for 
promising marriages, although the last month of the year- 
corresponding with the completion of the harvest — ^is also con- 
sidered desirable. The Votyak of Kasan still retain the ancient 
custom of marrying at a definite period of the year, which is 
before the hay harvest, about the end of June. 

The celebratipn of May Day (the name popularly given to 
the first day of May) throughout Europe can be traced back 
to, and is a survival of, rites originally offered to the old Roman 
goddess Mma, who was worshiped as the principle and cause 
of fertility. One of the essential features ofe this celebration 
was a ritual marriage of the goddess to a partner who repre- 
sented the male element of productive power, from which 
arose habitual acts of license which, however, were not re- 
pugnant to early moral sentiment. 

The Roman Floralia, celebrated in honor of Flora, the god- 
dess of flowers and of the spring, superseded the devotions to 
Maia. It was instituted in Rome in the year 238 B.C., on account 
of a bad harvest, the celebration taking place between April 
28th and May 3rd. Among the observances of the Floralia are 
mentioned gay costumes, dramatic performances and dances 
described as frequently extremely sexual in character, but to 
the ancients merely emphasizing the procreative character of 
the rites. 

The importance attributed by the ancients to their gods and 
goddesses of fertility, and the necessity of paying homage to 
them in order to benefit by the spell of their magic, is clearly 
indicated by the fact that the Romans had no less than three 
major divinities — Ceres, Mcda and Flora — of this character. 
There were also other lesser and local divinities of fertility, 
who were propitiated by acts and suggestions of procreation. 

In modern India the Holi festival is celebrated in March or 

Primitive Marriage Practices 87 

April with the singing of songs generally erotic in their impli- 
cations. The naturalistic basis of the custom is joy at the crea- 
tive impulses felt in the spring and manifested both in the 
vegetable and animal world. 

Even now among the peasantry of various European coun- 
tries, spring and midsummer festivals are celebrated with bon- 
fires, music and dancing, always associated with love- and 

So May Day has come down through the centuries with tra- 
ditions bearing on the fruitfulness and productivity of nature, 
as revealed by man, and the flora and fauna upon which his 
welfare, even his very life, depends. It was all of magical 
beginnings. In civilized times, it has lost most of its grosser 
outward manifestations, although retaining the symbolic sig- 
nificance that gave it being, even to the May Pole, which is 
admittedly phallic in origin. 

Licentiousness at Certain Feasts. — Among various peoples 
promiscuous sexual relations are indulged in at certain feasts. 
This is thought to be a survival of a more general ancient 
promiscuity, later limited to seasonal festivals. However, the 
later practice seems always to be of the character of a magical 

The Koko-nor Tibetans held a celebration known as t'iao 
mao hui, “the hat-choosing festival.” During the two or three 
days the feast lasts a man may carry off the cap of any girl or 
woman he meets in the temple grounds who pleases him, and 
she is obliged to come at night and redeem the pledge. 

In Madagascar orgies of great licentiousness formerly ac- 
companied the birth of a child in the royal family. On such an 
occasion the streets and lanes of the capital were the scenes of 
unrestrained caprice, and the period during which the de- 
bauchery lasted was called andro-tsi-maty, meaning a time 

88 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

when the law could not condemn nor the penalty of death be 

Tree Marriage. — ^Tree marriages, among other forms of 
mock nuptials, are widely prevalent in various parts of India. 
Among the Brahmans of southern India it is the established 
custom that a younger brother should not marry before an 
older one. To fylfil this requirement, when there is no satis- 
factory bride in sight for a senior brother, he is married to a 
tree, which leaves the younger one at liberty to take a wife. 

According to the theory of animism — which is universal 
among primitive peoples — all animate and inanimate objects 
possess a spirit. The brother who is married to the tree is in 
reality married to the spirit which resides in the tree. This cus- 
tom shows remarkable ingenuity in overcoming a convention 
prejudicial to the interests of certain individuals, and still satis- 
fies the demands of the folkways. 

In other cases tree marriages occur simultaneously with the 
regular marriage of the couple, the idea being to divert t« 
the tree some evil influence which would otherwise attach to 
the newly wedded pair. 

Mock marriages are also carried out among the Punjab of 
India in the case of a widower taking his third wife. It is cele- 
brated with a certain tree or bush, and sometimes with a sheep, 
which is dressed up as a bride and is led by the groom around 
the sacrificial fiire while the real bride rests near by. 

This act is a precaution against a train of ill luck which has 
caused the death of two former wives, and in order to insure 
protection to the new wife. It is believed that the malicious 
jealousy of the first wife has been instrumental in causing the 
death of the second one, and the characteristic features of this 
ceremony are to divert such evil influences to the substitute in 
the mock marriage. We use the term “mock marriage,” but it 

Frimitive Marriage Practices 89 

is all very serious with them. In the case of a widower taking 
a fourth wife, it is believed that the evil influence of the first 
wife has spent itself, and therefore no mock marriage is 
deemed necessary. 

Circumcision as a Prerequisite of Marriage.— The im- 
portance of circumcision in the limited culture of primitive 
peoples is attested by the fact that it is conceded to be the 
oldest surgical operation. Furthermore, it is still the most 
widely practiced form of surgery, and the only one having a 
mystical or religious significance. 

Leaving aside the general practice among the Jews, Moham- 
medans and certain Christian sects, such as the Abyssinians, 
Bogos and Copts, we are here concerned only with it as a rite 
incident to marriage. Among the tribes that so consider it are 
most of the natives of the West Coast of Africa, the Kafirs, 
nearly all the peoples of Eastern and Central Africa, Madagas- 
car, the aborigines of Australia, Melanesia, the Indian Archi- 
pelago, Polynesia and many of the Indian tribes of the West- 
ern Hemisphere. 

There is undoubtedly magic significance attached to it 
among these peoples, as there was to its origin among the 
Jews, Mohammedans and those Christian sects who continued 
it as a religious rite. That it was originally considered the 
physical symbol of spiritual purification is indicated by several 
references in Romans ii, of which it is only necessary to quote 
the following: “and circumcision is that of the heart, in the 
spirit, not in the letter” (verse 29). 

The importance of the rite among primitive peoples urn 
doubtedly rests on the fact that it makes the boy a man, and 
gives him the appearance of sexual maturity. This in turn sig- 
nifies he is capable of procreation, thus enabling him to fulfil 
his duties in marriage. If it results in this outward appearance. 

90 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

then, in the logic of the primitive mind, there must be some 
favorable connection between the practice and the benign 

In those communities where circumcision is a prerequisite 
of marriage, eligible girls would not think of considering an 
uncircumcised youth as a prospective mate. The folkways 
with respect to this custom are so thoroughly established that 
it would be thought indecent and objectionable to show en- 
couragement to a youth who had not been initiated by under- 
going this tribal rite. 

Among many peoples of Africa and certain natives of the 
Malay Archipelago and South America, the girls also undergo 
a ritual analogous to circumcision, which is also looked upon 
as a necessary preliminary to marriage. Whether the practice 
applies to one sex or both'^'lt is always a serious obligation, one 
of the most sacred rites performed by the tribe. 

Suttee. — A hideous practice which prevailed in India from 
legendary times down to the present century was suttee, the 
burning or immolation of the widow on the funeral pyre with 
the body of her husband ; or, separately, if he died at a distance. 
The word is an English corruption from the Sanskrit sati, 
meaning “true wife” or “good woman.” The custom was 
based on injunctions of the orthodox Hindus’ religious teach- 
ings. It appears to have originated among the Indian royalty 
as a “wifely privilege”, and afterwards became generalized and 
made legal under the native laws. 

Akbar, the Mogul emperor, acting from his Mohammedan 
viewpoint, forbade the suttee about 1600. His rule had no 
effect whatever on the practice. In the year 1803 there were 275 
women sacrificed on funeral pyres within a radius of thirty 
miles of Calcutta. In six months of the year 1804, in the same 
area, the number was 115. 

Primitive Marriage Practices 91 

The British Government outlawed the practice in 1829, but 
so strong was the custom that it continued in isolated parts of 
India as late as 1905, when several persons who had partici- 
pated in a suttee in Behar were condemned to penal servitude. 

When the rite was suppressed under British rule, the Hindu 
priesthood resisted to the utmost, appealing to the Veda, as 
sanctioning the ordinance, and demanding that the foreign 
rulers respect the native religious law. It was proven, however, 
that the priests had actually falsified their sacred Veda in sup- 
port of the rite, which was based on long and inveterate prac- 
tice, and not on the traditional standards of Hindu faith. 

For a long time after suttee had been suppressed, it was said 
that the prohibitory law was not a kindness to widows, as their 
continued existence was so wretched that death would have 
been preferable. They were subjected to physical abuse and 
mental torture, and shunned as creatures of ill omen. 

Usually the wife went willingly to the sacrifice, but force 
was used if she showed reluctance. Often one dead man took 
many wives with him. Some went eagerly, even gaily to the 
new life, many were driven by force of custom, by fear of dis- 
grace, by family persuasion, by priestly threats and promises, 
or, if necessary, by sheer violence. 

Widow sacrifice is found in various regions of the world 
under a state of low civilization. Tylor finds traces of a rite 
similar to suttee among ancient Aryan nations in Europe — 
Greece, Scandinavia, Germany, the Slavonic covmtries — ^and 
accounts for it by direct inheritance from the common antiq- 
uity of them all. Striking examples are found in both myth 
and early historical writings. 

In Greek lore we learn of the Trojan captives laid with the 
horses and hounds on the funeral pyre of Patroklos, of Evadne 
throwing herself into the funeral pile of her husband, and 

92 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

Pausanias’s account of the suicide of the three Messenian 
widows. In Scandinavian myth Baldr is burned with his dwarf 
foot-page, his horse and saddle. Brynhild throws herself on the 
pyre of her beloved Sigurd, and men and maids follow after 
them to Valhalla. 

The Gauls, in Caesar’s time, burned at the dead man’s elabo- 
rate funeral whatever he held dear. Old Slavonic legends de- 
scribe the burning of the dead with clothing and weapons, 
horses and hounds, faithful servants, and, above all, wives. St. 
Boniface reported that the Wends kept matrimonial love with 
so great zeal that the wife might refuse to survive her husband, 
and she was held praiseworthy among women who slayed her- 
self by her own hand, that she might be burned on one pyre 
with her lord. 

The primitive theory of this seems to be that the departed 
husband shall enjoy the company of his wife, and others as the 
case may be, in the other world. There was also the belief that 
a widow is dangerous because the ghost of her husband clings 
to her after his departure. She is therefore taboo, and must be 
slain that his spirit may depart in peace with her. 

Even in modern times the custom has been widely followed 
by savage tribes in many parts of the world. Among the Co- 
manches it was the practice to kill the man’s wife to accom- 
pany him on his journey. In various parts of Africa wives were 
sacrificed at the death of their husbands. This was also the case 
in the New Hebrides, New Guinea, Melanesia and the Fiji 
Islands. In Darien it was customary to inter with a chief all his 

Similar customs, with slightly different ceremonial forms, 
prevailed among some of the Chinese and Japanese peoples; 
also among the Tartars, and a number of Indian tribes of the 
Western Hemisphere. 

Primitive Marriage Practices 93 

The Purdah. — Another custom working great hardship on 
women is the purdah, literally keeping them out of sight. The 
name originated from a curtain, which was supposed to shield 
all respectable women from the gaze of men, other than those 
of the immediate family. It was formerly quite universal in the 
Mohammedan countries, especially Turkey, Persia, and India. 
The woman who sits behind a curtain is termed a purdah- 

The purdah supplemented the veil worn over the face of 
the Moslem women, before the dynamic Kemal Ataturk ban- 
ished both from Turkey into which he introduced so many 
modern innovations during his brief but spectacular career. 
The custom, while declining, is still maintained by some tra- 
ditional upper-class Mohammedans who have not been too 
drastically affected by the changes of the twentieth century, 
especially those brought about by the two World Wars. 

In a broad sense the purdah is part and parcel of the oriental 
tendency to seclude or segregate women, to keep them apart 
from, and out of contact with, the normal activities of life, ex- 
cept those that revolved around the exclusive sphere of the 
husband. The term has been absorbed into the English ver- 
nacular in the phrase “to lift the purdah,” meaning to divulge 
a secret. 

Family Life Among the Simians. — In a treatise on primi- 
tive marriage practices it will be pertinent to make brief men- 
tion of the family habits of man’s closest subhuman relatives, 
the simians. We are considering, of course, the animals in 
their native habitat and wild state, as no particular signifi- 
cance can be placed upon the actions of those placed together 
in captivity, in an entirely artificial environment. It is there- 
fore necessary to depend upon the reports of naturalists who 

94 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

have spent considerable time living and traveling in regions 
inhabited by the animals. 

Max Moszkowski, writing on his travels in Sumatra, states 
that the higher monkeys or apes usually live in families con- 
sisting of father, mother and one or two young. C. de Cres- 
pigny, reporting on his sojourn in Borneo, gives the following 
description o^ the orang-utan: “They live in families— the 
male, female and a young one. On one occasion, I found a 
family in which were two young ones, one of them much 
larger than the other, which I took as proof that the family 
tie had existed for at least two seasons. They build commodi- 
ous nests in the trees which form their feeding ground, and, 
so far as I could observe, the nests, which are well lined with 
dry leaves, are only occupied by the female and young, the 
male passing the night in "a fork of the same or another tree in 
the vicinity. The nests are very numerous all over the forest; 
for they are not occupied above a few nights, the orang-utan 
leading a roving life.” 

Hornaday and Wallace found the orang generally quite 
solitary in his habits, the old males invariably being alone. 
They did find, however, adult females with a nursing infant, 
and sometimes a next oldest offspring, apparently from the 
previous year, who had not yet left his mother’s side to shift 
for himself. Adult males were also less frequently seen accom- 
panied by half-grown young ones. 

The testimony regarding gorillas is more specific. They 
have been observed to live in small bands, usually with but 
one adult male in each group. It is said that when the male first 
realizes he is seen, he gives a terrific yell that resounds far and 
wide through the forest. At the first cry the females and young 
quickly disappear. He then approaches the enemy in great 
fury, giving vent to his dreadful cries in quick succession. 

Primitive Marriage Practices 95 

Win wood Read mentions that when a family of gorillas 
ascend a tree to eat a certain fruit, the old father remains 
seated at the foot of the tree on guard. When the female is 
pregnant he builds a rude nest, usually about fifteen or twenty 
feet from the ground. Here she is delivered and the nest is 
then abandoned. The male is said to spend the night crouch- 
ing at the foot of the tree protecting the female and the young 
from the nocturnal attacks of leopards. An instance is men- 
tioned where a band of gorillas was attacked by two Bulu men. 
The old gorilla of the band first got his family out of danger 
and then returned to the encounter. 

The family life of the chimpanzee was found to be very 
similar. Georg Schweinfurth relates that this ape also is found 
either in pairs or even quite alone, only the young being seen 
usually in groups. T. S. Savage seldom observed more than 
one or two nests upon the same tree or in the same neighbor- 
hood. Unlike the monkey, they do not live in villages, and are 
more often seen in pairs than in groups. The same author says 
it is not unusual to see “the old folks” sitting under a tree re- 
galing themselves with fruit and friendly chat, while their 
children are leaping around them and swinging from branch 
to branch in boisterous merriment. 

It is not only the simians that live in a more or less durable 
union. This is also the case with the hippopotamus, with 
whales, seals, certain of the antelopes, reindeer, gazelles, and 
among the smaller animals, squirrels, moles, the ichneumon, 
and of course many species of birds. 

Thus we see that the pairing instinct, coexistent with the 
parental care of offspring, is very extensive throughout nature, 
extending far into the subhuman world. It clearly indicates 
that mankind has by no means a monopoly of the impulse to 
mate and care for his young over a prolonged period of time. 

g6 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

Being necessary for the existence of certain species, the in- 
stinct has been fostered by the process of natural selection. 
So primitive marriage practices, or family life, have indeed a 
very long biological background. Mankind does not always 
seem to have made the most of his heritage. 


Primitive Religious Marital Ideas 

Maksiage and the Great Religions. — ^The great religions of 
the world — Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and 
Mohammedanism, to list them in the order of their seniority — 
have exercised vast influence upon marital ideas, and the cere- 
monies and ritual connected with the marriage relationship. 
The numerous subdivisions of these groups have made lesser 
contributions to the subject, as they have for the most part 
continued the general practices of the parent body, with cer- 
tain variations, and all modified to some extent by the tradb 
tional influences of their own environment. 

When it is stated that the great religions have exercised 
such influence, it is not to be inferred that the authority of 
religion over marriage began with the rise of these respective 
religious bodies. Considering religion in its broadest sense, 
i.e., belief in a supernatural power or spirit, there has been a 
religious jurisdiction over marriage since long before the dawn 
of history. 

Ages before there existed the concept of a personal divinity, 
there was a belief in a multiplicity of gods, dominating all the 
unknown and mysterious phenomena that surrounded and be- 
wildered primordial man. 

There was animism — the association of a spirit with all sorts 
of animate and inanimate objects. There was magic, which ex- 


pS Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

crcised so powerful a hold upon the primitive mind, and still 
does, to a greater extent than the uninitiated appreciates. 
There was sun-worship — the most rational of all the early 
forms of adoration of a higher power. And there were various 
forms of mysticism, fetishism, shamanism, phallicism, and 
many other religious isms that might be mentioned. 

Furthermore, the influence of any religious philosophy upon 
marriage does not mean primarily formulating a set of rules 
or regulations governing the marital relations. That is one of 
the end results, rather than a formative factor. The real influ- 
ence of a religion of whatever kind upon such an institution as 
marriage is to be found in its attitude toward men and women 
as human beings. More especially is the attitude toward 
woman the decisive factor, as the biological handicaps of the 
female in human society have been exploited mercilessly for 
the most part by the dominating male. 

Many of the marital practices prevalent under savage and 
barbarous social systems have been described in the previous 
chapters, and others will be considered under their proper 
classifications in subsequent sections of this book. We are here 
concerned with the primitive influence upon marriage by the 
great religions in their formative years. 

It is true that each of the great religions took over from their 
pagan predecessors certain forms and rituals — which the peo- 
ple understood through ages of practice — and adapted them 
to their own ends. It is also true that there is some overlapping 
of ideas among the great religions themselves, which have had 
to a great extent a common heritage in Asiatic tradition. 

Christianity, for instance, is an offshoot of Judaism, as the 
genealogy and chronology of the Old and New Testaments 
reveal. Jesus, of Jewish birth and heritage, is the Christian 
Saviour. Moses is still the major Prophet of Jew and Gentile, 

Primitive Religious Marital Ideas 99 

and the Mosaic law dominates the ethical code of Western 
civilization and its institutions. By the same token, the views 
of women and marriage held by Hebraic society at the begin- 
ning of the Christian era were those that prevailed in the form- 
ative years of Christianity. 

The same telescoping of ideas will be found in many aspects 
of Hinduism and Buddhism, originating and evolving as they 
did in India. All the great religions came out of Asia. Moham- 
med, coming along at a later period, took what he liked of 
Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism, added the 
result to his own revelations, and gave to the world the creed 
of Islam (meaning “resignation” or acceptance of the divine 

Marriage Among the Ancient Hebrews. — ^The position of 
woman among the ancient Hebrews was an unenviable one, as 
it was among most primitive pastoral peoples. However, as 
our own ethical and religious system evolved from the Hebraic 
culture, we often overlook this fact, especially as many of the 
disabilities under which woman has labored through the cen- 
turies have been condoned by our Christian civilization. 

Sumner reminds us that the Jewish idea of marriage was 
na'ivc and primitive. The purpose was procreation. There 
seemed to have been little ceremony about marriage, beyond 
the fact that the suitor induced the father to surrender the 
daughter in return for gifts. The bride had no choice in the 
matter whatever, and as this was the custom of her time, she 
did not expect to be consulted. In a word, it was marriage by 
purchase, and sexual union, as indicated in Genesis xxix, was 
the only principal marriage rite. 

No priestly function was necessary. The arrangements hav- 
ing been completed, the man took the woman as wife by 
repeating the formula: “Be thou consecrated to me”, which 

100 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

was later extended to: “Be thou consecrated to me by the law 
of Moses and Israel.” In the rabbinical period the betrothal 
and wedding were united. 

Afterwards the bride was led or carried to the house of the 
groom, in a procession, with dancing and rejoicing. Ten guests 
(adult males) must be present in the groom’s house, as wit- 
nesses, where prayers were recited and a feast enjoyed. At one 
period, two bridesmen led the couple to the nuptial chamber 
where they watched over them until after the conjugal union. 
The purpose of this was that there might be witnesses to the 
consummation of the marriage — ^which was held all impor- 
tant — and not merely to the wedding ceremony. 

When the custom of the presence of witnesses in the bridal 
chamber became objectionable in later times, a tent was sub- 
stituted for the chamber. Later a scarf, ceremoniously spread 
over the heads of the pair, took the place of the tent. 

The low status of woman in ancient Hebrew society is fur- 
ther evidenced by the fact that the Ten Commandments of 
the Old Testament are addressed exclusively to man. In the 
Tenth Commandment the woman is mentioned together with 
the domestic servants and domestic animals. The man is 
warned not to covet his neighbor’s wife, nor his man-servant, 
nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that 
is his neighbor’s. Woman, then, is treated rather as an imper- 
sonal object, a piece of property, that man should not covet if 
in someone else’s possession. 

The Genesiac admonition, “Be fruitful and multiply,” exer- 
cised an immense influence over the ancient Jews. The sexual 
function is therefore emphasized as the fulfilment of the first 
divine command to mankind. It is the realization of God’s will 
for a peopled world. The pious Jew still reads in his book of 

Primitive Religious Marital Ideas loi 

“And so our Creator and Maker ordered us to be fruitful 
and multiply, and whoever does not engage in reproducing 
the race is likened unto one who is shedding blood, thus 
diminishing the essence of the deity, and he is the cause that 
the holy spirit shall depart from Israel; his sin is great indeed.” 

Just as it was sinful to abstain from marriage, so it was un- 
lawful to live childless in the marital estate. One was not per- 
mitted to marry a woman too old or too young to bear chil- 
dren. If, after a period of years, the wife bore no children, the 
husband was obliged to divorce her and marry another who 
would bring him offspring. 

The man who destroyed the powers of procreation was twice 
a murderer. Even he who was born sterile had no place in the 
religious communal life. A Jew was forbidden to castrate even 
an animal. 

But with this preoccupation with sex, the ancient Jews held 
to the almost universal primitive taboo that stigmatized 
woman as unclean, and the biological processes of menstrua- 
tion and childbirth necessitated purification and penance. 
There was thus the inescapable paradox — sex was both ri gh t 
and wrong; righteous and sinful. The burden of the dilemma 
could only be made bearable by the most precise laws govern- 
ing the situation. 

In Talmudic lore the conduct of the married couple during 
the woman’s menstruation is elaborately formulated. As the 
punishment for sexual relations during the menstrual periods 
is untimely death for both husband and wife, means were 
devised to guard them from temptations that might lead them 
to commit this horrible sin. 

Consequently it was prescribed that the two must not show 
an affection toward each other during this time. The husband 
must be careful not to touch his wife, even without any desire. 

102 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

He must not even hand her anything so small that it may cause 
their fingers to meet. He may not cat out of the same dishes 
with her, nor drink from her cup; but she may eat and drink 
out of the dishes he has used. He may not sit upon her bed, 
even in her absence, and she is not permitted to make his bed 
in his presence. He must not even see any part of her body 
that is custoip.arily covered. 

Leviticus xii dwells on the problem of purification after 
childbirth in the following manner: “And Jehovah spake unto 
Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a 
woman conceive seed, and bear a manchild, then she shall be 
unclean seven days; as in the days of the impurity of her sick- 
ness (menstruation) shall she be xmclean. . . . And she shall 
continue in the blood of her purifying three and thirty days; 
she shall touch no hallowed things, nor come into the sanctu- 
ary until the days of her purifying be fulfilled. But if she bear 
a maidchild, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her 
impvuity; and she shall continue in the blood of her piuifying 
three score and six days.” 

The low status of woman is here shown, not only by the 
curse of her uncleanliness in itself, but in the statement that the 
impurity is twice as great in the birth of a female child as in that 
of a male child. Manhood and fatherhood are joyfully exempt 
from these penalized disabilities. 

Furthermore, the newly married woman was obliged to be 
able to prove, clothes in hand, that she was a virgin at the mo- 
ment of her marriage, and if the charge of not being a maiden 
was sustained, she was subject to stoning to death by the men 
of her city, as described in Deuteronomy xxii, 13-21. 

It may well be said that in citing these extreme instances of 
discrimination against and hardness toward women, we are 
going a long way back in the social calendar. This is naturally 

Primitive Religious Marital Ideas 103 

trae, because our subject in this chapter is Primitive Religious 
Marital Ideas. The cases cited have been taken from unim- 
peachable authorities, the holy books of the people in question. 
Furthermore, the influence of these early teachings remained 
for centuries to color the thought and ideas of both Jew and 
Christian in their attitude toward women and marriage. Un- 
fortunately, traces of the taboos and prejudices still remain. 

Makiuage Among the Hindu Cults.— In India, because of 
the peculiar relation of the household to the social structure, 
marriage may be said to be almost compulsory — like conscrip- 
tion in time of war. According to the Hindu lawgivers, anyone 
making gifts to, or taking gifts from, a Brahman who remains 
a householder, but does not marry, goes to hell. The unmar- 
ried householder is a person to be shunned, and it is sinful to 
accept hospitality from him. 

The performance of the duties of a householder is looked 
upon as a spiritual discipline, for in its true idealistic sense, the 
household is not primarily a means of insuring the comfort 
and security of the individual, but is one of self-abnegation, 
having its manifold obligations to gods and men — meaning 
devotion to religion and charity. 

To the Hindu, expenditure by the householder for the 
welfare of those in need is not a matter of generosity, but a 
primary duty in the interests of his own fulfilment. This duty 
is not only that of the rich, but also of the poor, according to 
thek means. Manu says: “The rishis, the forefathers, the gods, 
the guests, and all living creatures, expect to be maintained by 
the householder.” 

Because of these injunctions, it has been said that the Hindu 
ideal of marriage has no regard for individual preference or 
inclination; it is, indeed, rather afraid of them. 

With the orthodox Hindus, marriage is a religious sacrament 

104 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

which cannot be revoked. A woman convicted of adultery may 
be deprived of her status and turned out of her caste, but even 
in this case divorce in the ordinary sense is an impossibility. 
She cannot form a new marital tie, and often remains in the 
husband’s house on the footing of a slave. 

Other reasons for marriage than renunciation are recognized, 
as survivals qf earlier and more material concepts, or due to 
weakness of the human will, but they are frowned upon. Manu 
classifies these as the Gandharva (by mutual choice), Rakshasa 
(by conquest), Asur (by purchase), Paishacha (by taking ad- 
vantage of helplessness). It will be seen that in none of these 
is the social will manifest, but only the desire of the individual. 

The marriage of mutual choice, or Gandharva, is stigmatized 
by the ancient sage because it is “born of desire”, and has not 
as its goal the welfare oi society. Accordingly, it is considered 
best that the bride should be given to a man who has not 
solicited her. 

According to the Brahman idea, motherhood, insofar as it 
is concerned with the physical nurture of offspring, is not 
essentially different in man and the lower animals, being a 
function of biological, not of sociological life, governed by 
instincts which are of Nature, not by man’s own creative 
power. However, where the mother undergoes voluntary 
penance for the elevation of the human race, keeping her 
natural instincts vigorously in subordination to the dictates of 
mind and soul, there she finds a field for her own creative 

Kalidasa, the great dramatic and lyric poet of India, in bis 
Sa^untala and other works, looked upon marriage as a state of 
discipline, not intended for gaining individual happiness. 

Now, according to the Indian ideal, even the home must be 
given up in the course of time, in quest of the Infinite. The 

Primitive Religious Marital Ideas 105 

household, in fact, is set up only as an important stage in this 
quest. Even at the present time, it is not uncommon for house- 
holders, when their children are grown up, to leave their home 
and spend their remaining days in some place of pilgrimage. 

Thus far, we have presented the Hindu ideal of the marriage 
relation, of the sex factor and of the position of woman as set 
forth in the Code of Manu. Countless numbers of Hindus have 
lived up to and carried out this ideal, at least as consistently as 
the Christians of the Western World have practiced their 
ethical precepts. However, in its practical aspects the picture 
of the Hindu marriage system and of the national attitude to- 
ward woman, leaves a great deal to be desired, if the Western 
mind is at all capable of grasping the situation. 

In the preceding chapter, we have discussed suttee, the burn- 
ing or immolation of widows, and of the cruelty visited upon 
those who were spared this fate after the practice had been 
prohibited by the British government. In a subsequent chapter 
some of the evils involved in child marriage will be taken up— 
a custom that the religious leaders of the Hindus have tried to 
perpetuate in the face of strong outside opposition. 

Temple Prostitution. — Modern India has much in common 
with ancient Greece with respect to the position of its women. 
The wife is carefully isolated from social life, and as a conse- 
quence is not an educated, cultured person, but rather a disci- 
plined cog in the household menage. There is a class of 
courtesans, however, well educated and respected, who furnish 
intellectual diversion and companionship for those who adhere 
not too strictly to Manu. It is said to be the custom for the 
Hindus in the large towns and cities to frequent the society 
of courtesans for the charm of their wit and their conversa- 
tional ability. 

There are or were prostitutes attached to the temples, but 

io6 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

in our Western lights we probably should not be too hasty in 
passing judgment upon a time-honored institution which we 
do not understand. These temple attendants learn to read, 
sing and dance. 

Many years ago, J. A. Dubois wrote that in Southern India 
every temple, according to its size, entertains a band of so- 
called deva-da^i, that is, “servants or slaves of the gods,” to the 
number of eight, twelve or more. They perform religious 
duties, consisting of dancing and singing, twice a day, morning 
and evening. They are also obliged to assist at all the public 
ceremonies, which they enliven with their» dance and merry 
song. But as soon as their religious activities are over, “they 
open their cells of infamy, and frequently convert the temple 
itself into a stew.” 

These dancing girls jure bred to this profligate life from 
infancy. They are taken from any caste, and are frequently of 
respectable birth. It is said not to be uncommon to hear of 
pregnant women, in the belief that it will tend to their happy 
delivery, making a vow, with the consent of their husbands, 
to devote the imborn child, if it should be a girl, to the service 
of Pagoda. In doing so, they imagine they are performing a 
meritorious duty. Among the Kurubas when there are no sons 
in the family, the eldest girl is occasionally so dedicated. 
Among the Voddas, if an adult female remains unmarried, she 
may be dedicated to a free life in the name of Yellamma, who 
is their patron deity. 

The ceremony of dedication frequently resembles that of a 
formal marriage, and the woman is actually regarded as the 
wife of the god to whom she is devoted. Thus the dancing girls 
who serve in the pagodas of Kartikeya, the Hindu God of 
War, are betrothed and married to him, after which they may 
prostitute themselves. 

Primitive Religious Marital Ideas 107 

The Levikate.— The custom demanding that a dead man’s 
brother must inevitably, imder certain circumstances, marry 
his widow has been widespread. It is known as the levirate 
(from the Latin levir, brother-in-law). Among the Hindus and 
some others, the obligation arises if the dead man left no chil- 
dren. The levirate often encouraged polygamy, for the duty 
of marrying a dead brother’s widow may exist even when the 
living brother is already married. 

The Bible prescribes the levirate law in Deuteronomy xxv, 
5-6: “If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and 
have no son, the wife of the dead shall not be married unto a 
stranger; her husband’s brother shall go in tmto her, and take 
her to him to wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s 
brother unto her. And it shall be, that the first-born that she 
beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother that is dead, 
that his name be not blotted out of Israel.” 

A contrary ruling is given in Leviticus, but the custom may 
have changed after the earlier injunction. The fact that the 
brother-in-law who failed to marry as directed in Deuteronomy 
was exposed to shame for his delinquency indicates the social 
force behind the law. Furthermore, while the practice ulti- 
mately fell into disuse, a symbolic rite relating to it is still 
practiced among orthodox Jews. In a formal ceremony the 
widow loosens her brother-in-law’s shoe (this and his foot 
must be clean, according to rabbinical law), and spits on the 
ground before him. This symbolism closely adheres to the 
ritual set forth in Deuteronomy, following the verses quoted, 
when the living brother fails to marry his widowed sister-in- 

In India, the principal object of the levirate, with respect to 
the widowed fiancee, was to furnish the deceased man with 
a fictitious son, who could perform for him the sacrifices to 

io8 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

the manes, a duty of the highest importance in the religion of 
Brahma. The law of Manu imposes the levirate even on the 
brother of a betrothed man who dies, viz.: “When the husband 
of a young girl happens to die after the betrothal, let the 
brother of the husband take her for wife.” (It will be noted 
that the state of betrothal is considered equivalent to mar- 

The levirate has been practiced among many peoples be- 
sides the Hindus and the Hebrews, among whom may be 
mentioned the New Caledonians, the Mongols, the Afghans, 
the Abyssinians and certain of the AmericMi Indian tribes. It 
is believed that an important factor in the prevalence of the 
custom is the fact that the wife was considered a piece of 
property, bought and paid for, and was inherited as such by 
the nearest of kin — the brother. 

Among some of the African Negro tribes, the eldest son 
inherits and marries all his father’s wives with the exception 
of his own mother. 

Primitive Christian View of Marriage. — Christianity intro- 
duced a concept of marriage — taken over from the Hebrews — 
which differed greatly from that generally held by the prin- 
cipal contemporaneous peoples of culture, the Greeks and 

St. Paul, who did more than any other of the founders of 
Christianity to mold the traditional Western attitude with 
respect to woman and marriage, considered celibacy preferable 
to the married state. “It is good for a man not to touch a 
woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let each man have 
his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband” 
(7 Corinthians, vii, 1 - 2 ). If the unmarried and widows can- 
not contain, let them marry, “for it is better to marry than 

Primitive Religious Marital Ideas 109 

to burn.” He was true to his own views and refrained from 

Marriage, according to the doctrine of Paul, is therefore at 
best a compromise between indulgence and renunciation of 
sexual passion. Celibacy was proclaimed as the Christian ideal 
because the unmarried, being free from domestic obligations, 
can care for the things of the Lord. 

The early fathers of the Church, Tertullian and Jerome (in 
anticipation of the end of the world) considered virginity an 
end in itself. They thought it pious and noble to renounce the 
function on which procreation depends; first, because matters 
of the spirit were infinitely more important; secondly, because 
in view of the imminence of the approaching end of the world, 
it was futile to pay attention to such a thing as propagating the 

Commenting on the utterances of the Apostle Paul, Tertul- 
lian emphasizes that the better of two alternatives is not 
necessarily good. It is better to lose one eye than two, but 
neither is good. So, also, though it is better to marry than to 
burn, it is far better neither to marry nor to burn. Marriage 
“consists of that which is the essence of fornication,” whereas 
continence “is a means whereby a man will traflSc in a mighty 
substance of sanctity.” 

Gregory of Nyssa and John of Damascus lamented that if 
Adam had preserved his obedience to the Creator he would 
have lived forever in a state of virgin purity, and some harm- 
less mode of vegetation would have peopled paradise with a 
race of innocent and immortal beings. 

Eusebius and Hieronymus agreed that the teaching of the 
Old Testament, “Be fruitful and multiply,” was no longer 
suited to the times, and did not concern Christians. Origen 

no Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

declared: “Matrimony is impure and unholy; a means of sen- 
sual passion.” To escape temptation he emasculated himselh 

Toward the end of the fourth century, a Council of the 
Chtirch excommunicated the monk Jovinian because he denied 
that virginity was more meritorious than marriage. 

In brief, during the first centuries of Christianity marriage 
was tolerated qnly as a necessary expedient for the continuance 
of the human race, and as a restraint, however imperfect, 
on what was considered the natural licentiousness of man. 

Many of the early Christians, especially the Montanists and 
Novatians, strongly disapproved of second •marriages by per- 
sons of either sex. Such a marriage was described as a “kind of 
fornication,” or as “specious adultery.” There was also involved 
in this premise the behef^ that when husband and wife were 
united in the hereafter, the presence of an extra spouse would 
prove an embarrassing or unchristian-like triangle. 

These doctrines, of course, were not characteristic of Chris- 
tianity only, but were largely a social heritage directly from 
Judaism and Greek philosophy, and, indirectly, from the more 
ancient civilizations of Babylon, Egypt and India, among all 
of which women were held in low esteem. 

In the laws of Manu, for instance, we find the warning: “The 
cause of dishonor is woman; the cause of hostility is woman; 
the cause of worldly things is woman; therefore woman should 
be shunned.” Besides the belief in the degradation of woman, 
the fear of woman is repeatedly naively implied. These arc the 
same thoughts, if not in the same words, as expressed by the 
Christian fathers. 

Christianity’s early contribution toward this concept of 
woman and marriage was therefore not a new one, but rather a 
fresh and vigorous re-emphasis of the subject by a new and 
zealous organization imbued with the missionary spirit. 

Primitive Religious Maritd Ideas iii 

The Mohammedan Reaction to Asceticism. — It seems quite 
likely that no small part of the success of the prophet Moham- 
med in gaining converts to his new religious doctrine in the 
early part of the seventh century A.D. was due to the emphasis 
placed on sensual joys, in contrast to the early Christian 

Mohammedanism is a man’s religion; sex is an integral part 
of it — ^not only in this world, but even more so in the next, 
where sensual delights without limit and without end are 
promised to the faithful. 

The position of women in the creed of Islam is decidedly 
one of subjection. They are excluded from participation in 
the religious rites in the mosque; they must carry out their 
liturgical exercises in the privacy of their homes. TTiey are to 
remain hidden from the strangers’ eyes, but must re main ever 
accessible to the husband, their master. 

Mohammed exhorted his followers to give full and free ex- 
pression to the sexual impulse: “Your wives are your tillage; 
go in therefore unto your tillage in what manner soever ye 
will.” Even the fast need not interfere with the connubial 
duties. “It is lawful for you on the night of the fast to go to 
your wives ; they are a garment unto you and you are a garment 
unto them.” In short, the function of woman was to satisfy the 
Moslem’s passion and to raise his children. 

Polygamy is allowed, but not without restriction. Four wives 
is the legal limit for a Moslem, although he may cohabit with 
any number of concubine slaves. 

The Prophet, however, was allowed as many wives as he 
wished. As polygamy is recognized as the cause of much 
marital strife and unhappiness in Mohammedan countries, as 
well as elsewhere, monogamy is the rule of the great majority 
of Moslems. 

1 12 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

A Moslem may marry a Christian woman or a Jewess, but a 
Mohammedan woman is not under any circumstances permit- 
ted to marry an unbeliever. In all cases, however, the child 
born of a Moslem, whatever the mother’s faith, is required to 
be raised as a Mohammedan. 

Incestuous marriages, in contrast with the early Hebrew 
practices, are ,strictly forbidden, as is that to a woman who is 
related to the faithful “by milk in the degrees which would 
preclude his marriage with her if she were similarly related 
to him by blood.” 

This proscription refers to in-law connections; that is, a 
marriage to a mother-in-law, or a step-mother, a step-daughter, 
a son’s widow, a brother’s widow, etc. Marrying two sisters at 
the same time is also forbidden, as is marriage with two 
women who stand to each other in the relation of aimt and 
niece; or with unemancipated slaves, if he already has a free 

The Moslem rite has less formality than that of Christianity 
or any other of the great religions. It does correspond some- 
what, however, with the simple marriage rite of the early 
Christians, before the Council of Trent. A simple declaration 
of a man and woman who have arrived at the age of puberty, 
before two witnesses, of their intention to marry each other, 
and the payment of part of the dowry— which is indispensable, 
and must amount to at least ten dirhems (about one dollar) — 
is sufBcient for a legal marriage. 

A girl under age is given away by her natural or appointed 
guardian, with or without her consent. It is strictly forbidden 
to the believer to see the face of any woman who is neither his 
wife nor his concubine, nor belongs to any of the forbidden 

As was the case with all early religions, Mohammedanism 

Primitive Religious Marital Ideas 113 

considered woman unclean. If a man touched a woman, he 
was required to purify himself before going to pray. The mere 
act of touching a woman was looked upon as something of 
an offensive nature. “O true believers, when you prepare your- 
self to pray ... if you have touched a woman, and yet find no 
water, take fine clean sand and rub yoiu: faces and hands 

This attitude toward woman — ^part of the great universal 
taboo among all peoples in the pre-scientific age — was predi- 
cated upon the biological fact of menstruation and the univer- 
sal belief in evil spirits. It is said that even to the present day 
many of the Mohammedans have a fear that malignant spirits 
may enter the woman during the sexual relations. In Morocco 
it is always considered necessary for the husband before having 
intercourse with his wife to say '"bismillah ” — a supplication 
meaning “in the name of Allah”, lest the devil should enter 
the woman and make the child a villain. This belief has the 
support of Mohammedan tradition. 

In pointing out many of the crude beliefs and primitive ideas 
inherent in Mohammedanism, it would be grossly unfair not 
to make at least passing reference to an intellectual and cul- 
tural side of its history which is often overlooked. 

During several centuries of the Christian era, especially that 
bleak period commonly referred to as the “Dark Ages”, the 
educated Moslems did much to keep both the spirit and letter 
of civilization from perishing from the earth. From the ninth 
to the thirteenth centuries, they were admittedly the teachers 
of barbarous Europe. 

The real renaissance of Greek culture took place under the 
patronage of the Abbasides, the most celebrated Moslem 
dynasty, and classical literature would have been lost irre- 

II4 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

tricvably had it not been for the home it had found in the 
schools of Islam. 

Arabic philosophy, medicine, natural history, geography, 
history, mathematics, grammar and rhetoric flourished and left 
many invaluable legacies to the culture and knowledge of the 
Western World when it finally took them up. 


Marriage Taboos 

Meaning of the Sex Taboo.— Taboo, meaning “forbidden”, 
is a word adopted from the Polynesian (tabu). The practice of 
taboo is found under various names all over the world, but 
nowhere has it been so systematized as in Polynesia. It is an 
important — ^an almost all-important — ^factor in the lives of all 
known savage and barbarian tribes. It is an integral part of all 
primitive religions. It was almost equally momentous in the 
lives and religious observances of the ancient Hebrews, the 
Hindus, the early Christians and the Mohammedans. 

Taboo is something forbidden because the tabooed object 
is regarded as potent to injure, owing to its mana, or mysteri- 
ous (spiritual) power, which may be either holy, as a priest’s 
or king’s possessions, or evil and unclean. The fear of malig- 
nant spirits is the basis of taboo; so we can readily see how 
extensive and universal has been this fear. 

Fear of the unknown, fear of the imseen, fear of strange 
phenomena, all are bound up with taboos. Certain persons 
(priests and members of the ruling family), certain animals 
(the tribe’s totem), and certain objects, are held to be imbued 
to an unusual degree with this mana, and hence are regarded as 
holy. They are held in awe, and ordinary man must not have 
personal contact with them. 

Taboos are held on other things because it is considered that 


ii6 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

they bode ill. The list of such tabooed persons and objects is 
almost limitless, taking into consideration the vagaries of dif- 
ferent peoples, but the taboos on injurious or destructive in- 
fluences seem principally concerned with such things as a dead 
body, a new-born child, blood — ^particularly a woman’s blood, 
and therefore women in general, because of the menstrual 
cycle, its association with the loss of virginity and the phe- 
nomenon of childbirth; the sick, outcasts, sometimes for- 
eigners, criminals (the primitive idea of crime often being 
much different from ours), animals, even words and names, 
and many other things at one time or another. Taboos may be 
permanent or temporary, private or public. 

A river is tabooed by a king until the fishing season is over; 
a forest until the game is caught, a field until the crop is 
harvested. A public taboo'is where a whole community is made 
taboo while gathering the crop. This renders it impossible for 
any member of the tribe to do anything else until the taboo is 
removed and prevents any stranger from approaching the 
tabooed ground. The removal of the public taboo is made by a 
priest, who repeats a spell and performs certain rites over the 
tabooed people. 

What is not taboo is noa (common). There may be a taboo 
on knots, locks, crossed arms and legs — ^in brief, on all things 
that suggest an impediment. 

The most rigorous taboos, however, are concerned with sex, 
which is not to be wondered at, considering its vast importance 
both in individual and social life. The sex taboo is essentially a 
set of inhibitions which control and restrain the intercourse of 
the sexes with each other in ordinary life. 

Taboo on Women. — ^The belief that a woman’s blood is fatal 
to a man leads at stated periods to a temporary taboo of 
women, even among civilized Hindus. For the same reason in 

Marriage Taboos tvj 

many countries men may not eat with women. At menstrua- 
tion women are forbidden to touch men’s food or utensils. 

It is only by an understanding of the mana principle, with 
the belief in sympathetic magic that is bound up in the con- 
cept, that we can obtain an insight into the almost tiniversal 
custom of the woman shunned under certain conditions, and 
the sex taboo among primitive peoples. The transmission of 
mana through contact is inherent in the notion of sympathetic 
magic, which is the belief that the qualities of one thing can be 
mysteriously transferred to another, especially through touch. 

The avoidance of the menstruating woman, so widespread 
throughout the primitive world, was undoubtedly due to the 
belief that this function was a demonic possession. A woman 
during this period was held to be unclean and possessed by 
a demon. Primordial man could not be expected to know that 
the phenomenon of menstruation was in any way associated 
with reproduction. When the association was ultimately dis- 
covered, the taboos had become a fixed practice in social life, 
and such established customs are not dropped merely because 
the reason for their origin has become known. Furthermore, 
by this time the reason for their origin had long since been 
forgotten, so the practice remained valid for the all-sufficient 
reason that it was a custom. 

Among the Maoris, if a man ate food cooked by a menstru- 
ous woman, he would be “tabu an inch thick.” An Australian 
native who discovered that his wife had lain on his blanket at 
her menstrual period, killed her for violating the taboo and 
died of terror himself within a fortnight. Death is indeed the 
penalty dealt a menstruating woman who dares to touch any- 
thing that the men use, or even to walk on a path that is fre- 
quented by men. 

The primitive man’s fear of women at the time of her sexual 

Ii8 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

crises — ^menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth — ^is really but 
an intensification of his attitude toward her at all times. If she 
is possessed by demons on these occasions, how can he be sure 
that she is entirely free of evil iniluences at any other time ? 

Notwithstanding all the precautions that are taken to purify 
her and drive out the malignant spirits, he is not entirely re- 
assured, so woman remains suspect. No small part of the ele- 
ments involved in the belief in witchcraft and in the horrors 
of witch-burning in civilized countries of the Western World 
as recently as within the past two or three centuries was due 
to this latent feeling. 

Taboo of Childbed. — ^Restrictions are imposed on women in 
childbed apparently for similar reasons. At such periods 
women are considered to be in a dangerous condition, and 
may infect any person or tiling they might touch. They are to 
all intents and purposes kept in quarantine until, with the 
recovery of their health and strength, it is evident that the 
danger has passed away. 

In Tahiti it was customary to seclude a woman after child- 
birth for two or three weeks in a temporary hut erected on 
sacred ground. During the period of her seclusion she was 
forbidden to touch food and had to be fed by another woman 
assigned for that purpose. If anyone else touched the child at 
this period, thus exposing himself to the curse, he was sub- 
jected to the same restrictions as the mother until the purifica- 
tion rites had been performed. 

Likewise, among the Alaskan Kadiaks, when a woman is 
about to be delivered, she retires to a low hovel built of reeds, 
regardless of the season, and is considered so unclean that no 
one will touch her, and she is fed with food at the end of a 

Marriage Taboos 119 

Eva. Omen of the Stillborn. — Some primitives regard the 
danger as still worse, and the pollution more deadly, if the 
woman has had a miscarriage or has been delivered of a still- 
born child. In such case she may not go near any living being. 
The slightest contact with her or with anything she has used 
is extremely dangerous. She receives her food at the end of a 
long rod. After three weeks, she may return to her home, sub- 
ject only to the restrictions of an ordinary confinement. 

The evils inherent in a concealed miscarriage are still more 
terrible. In this case not only the husband and family are in 
jeopardy, but the whole country; even the sky may become 
troubled. To quote a medicine man of the Ba-Pedi tribe: 
“When a woman has had a miscarriage, when she has allowed 
her blood to flow, and has hidden the child, it is enough to 
cause the burning winds to blow and to parch the country 
with heat. The rain no longer falls, for the coimtry is no longer 
in order. When the rain approaches the place where the blood 
is, it will not dare come further. It will fear and remain at a 
distance. That woman has committed a great fault. She has 
spoiled the country of the chief, for she has hidden her blood 
which had not yet been well congealed to fashion a man 
That blood is taboo.” 

In a case of this kind they go and arrest the woman. They 
compel her to show where she has hidden the result of her 
unsuccessful attempt at childbirth. They dig at the spot, then 
sprinkle the hole with a decoction of two sorts of roots pre- 
pared in a special pot. A little of the earth is taken from the 
grave and thrown into the river. Water is then brought back 
from the river and sprinkled where she shed her blood. She 
herself must wash every day with the medicine. Then the 
country will be moistened again by rain. The country is 
purified ! 

120 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

The Taboo of Incest. — ^The widespread feeling of revulsion 
toward incest, or sexual congress with very close blood rela- 
tives, has been the subject of exhaustive commentary. That it 
is anti-social is generally conceded, and therefore immoral, be- 
cause too close inbreeding tends to degeneration of the off- 

There have l^een some notable exceptions to this rule, but 
they may be explained by the fact that the parents in question, 
as individuals, were quite exceptionally gifted, and therefore 
passed on these gifts or desirable characteristics to their chil- 
dren. Such fortunate background, however, eannot be assured 
when inbreeding takes place at random and on a more con- 
siderable scale, so the practice is justly considered detrimental 
to the race. Even the primitive savages appear to have dis- 
covered this. 

Some authorities find evidence of a close connection be- 
tween sexual modesty and the aversion to incest, or, perhaps, 
more strictly a sexual aversion which prevails among members 
of the same small domestic circle. 

Bentham stated as a psychological fact that individuals ac- 
customed to see each other and to know each other from an 
age which is neither capable of conceiving desire nor of in- 
spiring it, will see each other with the same eyes to the end 
of life. 

In primitive society the incest prohibition applies pr imar ily 
to relations between brothers and sisters, or more especially 
between brothers and younger sisters. Everywhere in primitive 
society there is a sharp distinction drawn between elder and 
younger sisters. The two belong to different classes of kinship, 
and the relation bears a different name. In most tribes the elder 
sister stands much in the same position as the mother. 

The Nayars of the Malabar coast, for instance, have an ex- 

Marriage Taboos 121 

traordinary respect for their mother. The primitive attitude to- 
ward the mother is probably not so much that of affection, as 
we know it, as it is of awe toward one whose magical properties 
were responsible for the existence of the son. The mother was 
held in esteem if for no other reason than to propitiate the 
good mana with which she was imbued, and to keep in her 
good graces. The curse of a mother was the most terrible 
imprecation that could descend upon the human head. The 
primitives regarded it as the only curse the effects of which 
could never be avoided. 

As they honored their mothers, in like manner these savages 
regarded their elder sisters. But with the younger sisters, they 
never stay together in the same room, and they observe toward 
them the utmost reserve. They say that dangerous situations 
might else arise, the younger sisters being thoughtless. Their 
respect for their elder sisters, being of a maternal sort, pre- 
cludes any thought of sexual intimacy, and therefore it is un- 
necessary to guard against it. 

In Tonga the elder sisters are likewise treated with remark- 
able deference. A chief will show his respect by not even dar- 
ing to enter the house of his elder sisters. Among the natives 
of central Australia, a man may not speak to his younger 
sisters, but there is no restriction as to his speaking to his elder 
sisters. These views represent the attitude of many primitive 

Marriage between mother and son has been particularly 
abhorrent to almost all primitive tribes. The exceptions to this 
rule are so slight as to be negligible. Unions between father 
and daughter, however, are much more prevalent, but tend to 
come under the tribal ban with a higher degree of civilization. 
The mother-in-law taboo is very widespread, and usually be- 
gins with betrothal. In some tribes a man may not touch or 

122 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

speak to his mother-in-law, nor the latter have any contact 
with her son-in-law. They are forbidden to pronounce each 
other’s names. This prohibition with respect to names is a 
common feature of all taboos between persons. To mention a 
name is a form of contact; it calls forth the spirit of the other 
person, and is to be avoided. 

The basis of ^this taboo is unquestionably the prevention of 
incest with a new kinswoman. Other reasons have been 
ascribed for the prohibition put upon all social contact be- 
tween the principals of this relationship. It has been called a 
natural sequence of marriage by capture through which the 
people had passed. Thus, when the capture was a reality, the 
indignation of the girl’s mother would be real, and the groom 
would shy away from one whom he had so cruelly offended by 
stealing her daughter. With the passing of marriage by cap- 
ture, the maternal anger and the groom’s embarrassment be- 
came symbolized. These symbols continued long after the 
origin of the practice had been forgotten. 

Exogamy. — ^We know that exogamy — the law prohibiting 
marriage between persons of the same blood as a prevention 
of incest — ^has had wide application in primitive society. 
Among the natives of New Britain it was believed that mar- 
riage within the totem (tribe) would result in the death of the 
woman. If this taboo were violated her parents or relatives 
usually killed her for shame, so that the belief became a reality. 
The groom’s life was likewise in jeopardy, unless he fled. 

The exogamous principle works as an obstacle to matrimony 
in many instances where there are natural difficulties to its 
fulfilment. It has been found, for example, that unmarried men 
are more frequently met with among the Tungus than among 
the Chukchee, not only on account of the considerable price 
to be paid for the bride, but more so because marriages are 

Marriage Taboos 123 

strictly exogamous, and a bride may be taken only from an- 
other clan than that of the bridegroom, which added to the 
di£Bculties of marrying. 

The same observation has been made with reference to the 
natives of Pentecost, where all marriages between near relatives 
are prohibited, and the chance to marry at all is considerably 
diminished. As a result, with the decreased population, a man 
very often could not find a wife, even though in the midst of 
numerous women. 

Marriages between cousins are disapproved by the Eskimos, 
and also by the Mahlcmuts and the Chippewas, as well as 
many other American Indian tribes. The Algonquins put to 
death those who violated this rule. The Greenlanders do not 
marry near relatives, even to the third degree. They consider 
such unions unnatural and contrary to the wishes of the gods. 

In Polynesia marriage with blood relatives is taboo and 
rarely occurs. The natives of Andaman do not permit mar- 
riage with those even distantly related. The Dyaks are specific 
in prohibiting a man from marrying a cousin, aunt or niece. 
Marriages in Samoa are carefully guarded against incest. 

Endogamy. — Correlative with exogamy is endogamy, which 
enforces marriage within a social or political group. These two 
principles are not necessarily contradictory, as they may refer 
to different groups of persons. Hence endogamy and exogamy 
may and often do occur side by side with each other among the 
same people. It has been well stated that there is everywhere 
an- outer circle out of which marriage is definitely prohibited 
or considered improper, and an inner circle within which no 
marriage is allowed. Both the terms endogamy and exogamy 
were coined by J. F. McLennan, the Scottish sociologist and 

We have only to look about us to find this principle in opera- 

124 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

tion. For instance, in our present-day society it is not custom- 
ary to marry outside our race (referring to color). It is true this 
is sometimes done, but the penalty is heavy in social disap- 
proval and ostracism, when, indeed, the law itself is not vio- 
lated by so doing, as would be the case in many states. This is 
an example of endogamy. 

On the othenhand, it is not customary for marriage to take 
place between very close blood relatives, such as brother mar- 
rying sister, niece marrying tmcle, nephew marrying aunt, 
and so forth. Not only are the laws and mores generally set 
against this practice, but it is repugnant ta all normal indi- 
viduals. Here we have an example of exogamy. 

In primitive society where social life is not stabilized by 
education, formal training and ethical precepts, as we know 
these influences, where the individuals are thrown together 
more promiscuously, and cohabitation is apt to take place from 
the time of puberty — ^when the mind is still immature and 
undiscriminating — experience has taught the necessity of for- 
mulating stringent taboos to control the primary impulses. 
These taboos, as we have seen, are associated with sacred rites 
and backed by the belief in sympathetic magic which is in- 
herent in primitive psychology. 

While civilized man has quite rational ideas regarding the 
prevention of inbreeding, and generally has an abhorrence of 
incest, the primitive concept of the whole subject is often more 
vague and involved. For instance, very distant cousins and even 
persons whose blood ties are imaginary — kinfolk by virtue of 
some tribal rite — ^may be forbidden to marry under the exog- 
amous principle. 

Endogamy is the essence of the caste system as it exists 
among the Hindus. Their religion forbids the intermarriage of 
persons belonging to different castes. Not only must a Hindu 

Marriage Taboos 125 

refrain from marrying outside the limits of his caste, but where, 
as is usually the case, the caste is divided into sub-castes, he 
must not ordinarily marry outside his sub-caste. In some in- 
stances he may marry in certain sub-castes but not in others. 

The tendency in civilized society against mating members of 
different social strata is an analogous example of class endog- 
amy, which has had wide application in both the ancient and 
modern world. 

In Rome patricians and plebeians were not permitted to in- 
termarry until the year 445 B.C. In most countries in medieval 
times a freeman could not contract a lawful marriage with a 
serf. When nobility finally emerged from the class of freemen 
as a distinct order, marriages between persons of noble birth 
and persons who, although free, were not noble were con- 
sidered misalliances. 

No one holds that endogamy represents a stage in the evo- 
lution of marriage through which all tribes once passed, and 
strictly endogamous communities are not nearly so common as 
those practicing exogamy. It should be noted that endogamous 
rule applies only to what might be called legal marriage, and 
does not usually exclude concubinage. Pride in blood is not 
always the motivating principle of endogamy; it may represent 
the desire to keep certain highly prized traditions the exclusive 
property of a clan or community. 

There are dangers in inbreeding which the primitive mind 
seems to have perceived in giving direction to the exogamous 
principle. Inbreeding preserves a type, but weakens the stock. 
Outbreeding strengthens the stock, but enfeebles the type. 

The taboo having been established very early in primitive 
society, the holy men and chiefs, who generally were the super- 
visors of the procedure, soon came to realize how great was the 
power that came to them through the associated superstitions. 

126 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

As the hereditary beneficiaries therefore, they did their utmost 
to carry on the traditions and to prevent any outside influence 
from weakening them. One of the advantages seen in endog- 
amy by these hereditary beneficiaries was that it tended to 
conserve the tribal traditions. 

As human nature in an environment steeped in superstition 
is inevitably conservative and resists change, it was not difl&cult 
to perpetuate practices, once they became established, that 
worked to the interests of the privileged class. 

Food Taboos. — ^Malevolent spirits being omnipresent, ac- 
cording to primitive notions, it was believed that evil could 
enter the body with the food. Undoubtedly the occurrence of 
stomach ache and other alimentary disorders confirmed this 
impression. Therefore, very stringent taboos were practiced 
applying to food and drink, and their consumption. 

Furthermore, at the time of eating the soul might escape 
through the mouth, or be extracted by the magic arts of an 
enemy present. There was a belief among some savages that 
the indwelling spirit leaves the body and returns to it through 
the mouth. Hence there was a double jeopardy; first, that the 
individual’s spirit may leave the mouth and venture too far to 
return safely; secondly, that in the absence of one’s own spirit, 
a homeless or evil spirit may enter the mouth and take its 

Precautions were therefore adopted to guard against these 
dangers. As an example, it is only possible to prevent the soul 
from straying when one is in the house. At feasts the whole 
house may be shut up so that the soul may stay and enjoy the 
good things set on the festal board. 

The members of a Madagascar tribe bar their doors when 
they cat, and will not knowingly permit anyone to see them 
eating or drinking. They are doubly particular that a person 

Marriage Taboos 127 

of the opposite sex shall not see them doing so. A traveler had 
to bribe a native to see him drink; but not even a bribe was 
sufficient inducement for the man to let a woman see him 
drink, so powerful was the influence of this taboo. 

The primitive was therefore exceedingly careful with whom 
he ate or drank, and once having made his decision to do so 
with a stranger, after having made the proper magic signs as 
a protection, the partaking of food together was a pledge of 
friendship, or even a symbol of newly formed kinship. 

The Atiu Islanders, to this day, refuse to eat with the mis- 
sionaries, and the Papuans will not eat food that has been 
touched by a white man. Among certain Eskimo tribes, the 
woman is forbidden to cat with her husband. In many African 
tribes it is a capital offense to eat with a woman. The belief is 
that the man who eats with a woman runs the risk of sudden 
and mysterious death. It is therefore strictly taboo. 

In view of these ordinary precautions taken by the common 
people, it will readily be understood that the precautions taken 
by the king and priests are extraordinary. If any man or beast 
saw the King of Loango eat, that man or beast was instantly 
put to death. A favorite dog, having run into the room when 
the king was dining, was ordered to be killed on the spot. It is 
said that the king’s own son, a boy of twelve, once inadvert- 
ently saw his father drink. Immediately the king ordered his 
own son’s death. It is believed that great evil — even death — 
shall come to the king if anyone sees him eat or drink, and 
consequently the one unfortunate enough to witness this act 
is sacrificed to save the monarch. 

Taboos such as this, and there are many others that set the 
king apart from all his subjects, result in traditions that en- 
hance the royal prerogative. One cannot envy the monarch 
these dubious privileges, but it is part of a system of which 

128 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

he is a hereditary victim, and he would be the last, seemingly, 
to want a change. This has been the attitude generally of all 
victims, high or low, of superstitions and shackling traditions 
throughout the ages. 

Taboo of Widow Marriage. — Even in the modern world, 
according to convention, it is not general for widows to re- 
marry until after the lapse of a certain period, which used to 
be known as the widow’s “mourning year.” 

In most primitive societies this custom amounts to a set 
prohibition for periods ranging from a few months to several 
years, or even permanently. In the savage mind, the widow is 
a bearer of ill-luck, and the taboo on remarriage is a safeguard 
for the males of the tribe against death infection, of which her 
late husband was a victim. 

In addition to the prescribed lapse of time that must ensue 
between the decease of her husband and the widow’s remar- 
riage, certain purificatory rites are performed to dissipate the 
corpse lien or taint that is upon her. Until this result is satis- 
factorily accomplished marriage would be a great risk alike for 
the widow and for the second husband. 

All sorts of misfortune may befall the man who consorts 
with an unpurified widow. The foolhardy man is doomed to 
be drowned, to die in battle or to fail in whatever he under- 

There is also the prospect of the deceased husband’s ghost 
bullying her into lasting widowhood, unless by the perform- 
ance of suitable rites the intimidating spirit can permanently 
be banished. Jealous ghosts are said to be particularly the bane 
of Hindu widow-brides. 

A widow married by the more ceremonial of the two Creek 
forms of marriage was considered an adulteress if she spoke or 

Marriage Taboos 129 

made free with any man within four years of her bereavement. 
In Borneo widows may not remarry before the annual spirit 
feast. If they do so, they are fined by the relatives of the 
deceased. The amount of the fine is significantly the same as 
that for adultery, and the new husband is also fined as if for 

Among the Igorots if a widow (or widower) should re- 
marry within the year of mourning, she (or he) would be 
killed by a ghost “whose business it is to punish such sacrilege.” 
Here we have an example of affronted ghosts apparently dele- 
gating their power of vengeance to a special agent of the spirit 

In the southeastern district of the Chinese province of 
Fuhkein match-makers are reluctant to arrange a marriage 
between a young bachelor and a widow. It would bring ill luck 
to the second husband and his clan because the vindictive 
spirit of the first husband, peevish over the infringement upon 
his ownership, would “hover over them all.” 

In some communities those widows who remained unmar- 
ried and loyal to their husband’s memory were accorded espe- 
cially considerate treatment for their constancy. Rich Chinese 
families were glad to have a chaste widow living with them. 
She reflected honor upon them, and was treated with unusual 
respect, so that she might remain true to her ideals. To the 
poor, on the other hand, the chaste widow was a prohibitive 
luxury. They could not afford to support a drone or to refuse 
the bride price which her second marriage would bring them. 

Widow marriage is still strictly forbidden among the Brah- 
mans and almost all the higher castes of India. The Manu dis- 
qualifies the son of any remarried woman as an heir. A chaste 
widow is promised the highest renown in this life, and a place 

130 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

in heaven near her husband. To make the accomplishment 
more certain she is expected never even to mention the name 
of another man after her husband’s death. 

Where compulsory widowhood is found limited to the chief- 
tain class and their class is known to have once practiced 
widow immolation, the present practice is regarded as an im- 
molation syn^bol. 

The Koran prohibited the remarriage of Mohammed’s 
widows, “It is not right for you to wed his wives after him 
ever; verily that is with Allah a serious thing.” 

Deification of Woman. — ^We have examined a great deal of 
the evidence of the low estate in which woman was held 
throughout the course of history and, infercntially, during a 
considerable prehistoric^ period, as revealed by myth and 

Man’s attitude toward woman has been predicated on an 
ambivalent emotionalism, i.e., on the opposite feelings co-exist- 
ing of fear and desire. Woman and her biological functions 
were different — therefore not understood. Anything not un- 
derstood was suspect. 

She has been deified in the abstract sense by pagan peoples 
in the form of numerous goddesses, especially those associated 
with fertility and sexual allurement. At the same time, in actual 
life, she has been subjected to all sorts of individual imposition 
and social subjugation. 

She has been deified, too, by many religions, whose followers 
have treated her, in reality, with outrageous inhumanity. 

Woman’s psychic and intuitive qualities, no less than the 
physical, have baffled man, and these uncanny attributes have 
caused her to be castigated universally for sorcery, black magic 
and witchcraft down to modern times. Even today in isolated, 
backward communities, there is a latent reservoir of this feel- 

Marriage Taboos 131 

ing toward woman that sometimes flares up in direct accusa- 
tion of some eccentric female. 

Woman’s seeming prophetic powers were widely recog- 
nized by the ancients. The oracles at Delphi, Argos, Epirus, 
Thrace and Arcadia were feminine. There was a cult of Sibyl- 
line prophetesses whose influence was felt throughout the 
ancient world, and Greek and Roman philosophers attested to 
the validity of their powers. Magic and medicine were inter- 
related arts, and women were the principal custodians of the 
hereditary formulas for making potent charms and cures from 
herbs and other substances. 

Woman was both weak and strong. She was weak with the 
disabilities incident to menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth. 
She did not fight alongside the warriors of the tribe, nor did 
she join them in the hunt and chase, except in some unusual 
instances. On the other hand she was bafflingly strong in natu- 
ral resources which enabled her to withstand the shock of 
injury, the waste of disease and the disintegration of old age 
better than her mate. Such a paradoxical being was one to be 
feared, no less than desired. 

It is small wonder that primitive man considered that 
woman was in possession of, or in league with, supernatural 
powers, sometimes for good, often for evil purposes. It was 
therefore to protect man that elaborate systems of taboos were 
devised, the relics of some of which have come down to us to 
the present time. 

Dedication of Virgins to Divinities. — ^The ancient world 
viewed generation as something supernatural, a process that 
involved traffic with the mysterious realm of the spirits, and 
to be approached and safeguarded by magic rites. 

Among peoples practicing nature worship, phallic cere' 

132 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

monials were performed as a magic charm to insure the fertility 
of the fields and abvindant harvests. 

The act of generation was deified by cults such as Astarte in 
Phoenicia, Aphrodite and Adonis in Syria, Ishtar and Mylitta 
in Babylon, Isis and Osiris in Egypt, Mithra in Persia, among 
many others. Greece and Thrace had their analogous cults of 
Demeter and Dionysus, and there were the Roman deities of 
Flora, Ceres and Maia. The Romans had the institution of the 
Vestal Virgins, and India had its numerous temples in which 
virgins were dedicated to various deities. 

So-called temple prostitution and the dustom of the sacrifice 
of virginity to the gods indicate the supernatural relation 
ascribed to the sex act by ancient peoples within historic times. 

Herodotus has traQ$mitted to us a striking account of the 
Babylonian custom known as hetairism, which demanded that 
every native woman, once in her lifetime., sit in the temple of 
Mylitta, or Venus, and have intercourse with some stranger. 
He wrote that many, disdaining to sit with the rest, being 
proud on account of their wealth, came in covered carriages, 
and took up their station at the temple with a retinue of serv- 
ants attending them. Many sat down in the temple, wearing 
a crown of cord around their heads. There was a continuous 
line of those coming and going. Passages were marked out 
along which strangers passed and made their choice. 

When a woman had once seated herself, she must not return 
home till some stranger had thrown a piece of silver into her 
lap and cohabited with her outside the temple. He who threw 
the silver must say: “I beseech the goddess Mylitta to favor 
thee.” The silver may have been ever so small, for she would 
not reject it, as it was not lawful for her to do so; such silver 
was accounted sacred. The woman followed the first man that 
performed the rite of throwing the silver, and refused no one. 

Marriage Taboos 133 

Those who were beautiful and shapely were soon chosen, and 
set free; but the homely and deformed often waited a long 
time, even for a period of several years before their obligation 
was fulfilled. After having completed the rite that was her 
sacred obligation, the woman returned to her home, and hence- 
forth lived a virtuous and dutiful life. 

It is believed that this custom, and similar rites practiced in 
Phoenicia, Cyprus and elsewhere, were survivals of exogamous 
practices of great antiquity, designed to secure an infusion of 
foreign blood into the native strain. The sacredness in which 
the procedure was held is indicated by the religious formalities 
surrounding it. 

The practice probably combined what was considered an 
exogamous necessity, through fear of too intensive inbreeding, 
and a sacrament to the principle of fertility and fruitfulness. 
It is well established that both of these customs existed in 
many ancient societies, often side by side, and their final 
mergence into a single sacrament would have been a natural 
culmination toward the end of their long course. 



Chastity a Widely Esteemed Concept. — ^The concept of 
chastity has occupied the mind and evpked the admiration of 
peoples of both the ancient and modern worlds, but for widely 
different reasons. Civilized people esteem chastity as a desirable 
virtue because it is in accord with the accepted code of moral- 
ity. But ideas of morality are not universal and changeless. 
They differ greatly in various parts of the world, and have 
changed from time to time in those parts from which we 
derive our social and ethical heritage. 

Primitive man esteemed chastity, when he considered it at 
all, because to him it represented a magical value. Always in 
primitive society we come back to the association of magic 
with some human characteristics or biological phenomenon. 
It may be a beneficent or a malignant manifestation of magical 
charm, a portent for good or of evil, but it is an influence that 
attains contact with the spirits, and therefore is one to com- 
mand attention. 

With the advent of marriage by purchase, and the stabiliza- 
tion of the principle of property rights, chastity acquired a 
value that it had not attained under prior social systems. 
Woman as salable property had an added value if chaste, which 
would not have received a second thought under the more 
primitive system of marriage by capture. Consequently, the 


Chastity 135 

mores soon made premarital chastity a virtue, which at first 
gained recognition in governing and property-owning circles, 
and finally became the accepted social code. 

Elaborate precautions for the preservation of chastity both 
before and after marriage were evolved among many peoples. 
In some instances a woman was considered as defiled if she 
were accidentally touched by any man other than her husband. 
This is an example of sympathetic magic, where the slightest 
personal contact results in contamination. In modern Korea 
women have been put to death when strange men have acci- 
dentally touched their hands. It is not even proper for a friend 
or acquaintance to inquire after the women of the family. 

Man in the primitive state did not and still does not think 
of chastity at all as an abstract moral consideration, as we un- 
derstand the term. To him it is a concrete matter that hinges 
on some definite problem, such as the well-being of the tribe, 
the acquisition of adequate food, triumph over one’s enemies 
in battle, overcoming pestilence or catastrophes of nature. 

What have these material problems to do with the question 
of chastity, you may ask. It is all bound up with the ever- 
present influence of magic, as we shall see in a moment. In the 
meantime, let us take up the associated phenomenon of 

Modesty Considered a Consequence of Fear. — ^As woman in 
primitive times was a form of booty, a prey of the conqueror in 
wars and raids, and the prize of the successful rival in single 
combat, she early developed a psychological armor against the 
male in sexual matters. It may have been frail, and undoubt- 
edly at times ineffective, but by and large it became a factor 
to be reckoned with. 

Just as primitive man subconsciously feared the female — ^not 
physically, but because of her unique biological functions that 

136 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

have already been pointed out, woman, for her part, acquired 
a dread of the male, in general, that came to dominate her life. 
The individual man had to overcome this dread by various 
attentions in the form of wooing or courtship, if he wished to 
gain her interest and confidence. 

It thus became second nature in woman to conceal from the 
masculine gaze those parts of her body which are most apt to 
stimulate man’s sexual desire and leave her open to sexual 

Modesty has been described as “the timidity of the body’’ 
The classical example of womanly modesty has been admirably 
presented in the Medicean Venus, who withdraws the pelvis, 
at the same time holding one hand to guard the pubes, and 
the other to protect the breasts. The whole inference of this 
artistic expression f? feminine defense of the sexual centers 
against the undesired advances of the male. 

The sentiment of modesty is therefore fundamentally based 
on fear, which in a more civilized age and a more refined en- 
vironment has become perhaps a subconscious fear. Neverthe- 
less, the latent fear is there ready to assert itself when need be, 
as no society has yet evolved under which woman has been 
entirely free from the danger of sexual aggression. 

Fear is a natural, instinctive defensive emotion that causes 
man or woman to react automatically when in danger, or when 
there seems to be danger. Associated with reasonable judgment 
and poise, it is a valuable defensive measure without which 
one could not go very far along the hazardous paths of life 
without falling a victim to unrecognized dangers. 

Notwithstanding its prehistoric background, the sentiment 
of modesty is a quality which has to be inculcated by educa- 
tion, fortified by experience and freshly acquired in each gen- 
eration. Unlike the instinct of fear, it is not an inborn trait that 

Chastity 137 

expresses itself automatically in the new-born infant. The 
young child knows nothing of shame, until it is taught to react 
by precept and experience in the characteristic manner, which 
is part of the process of socialization. 

Modesty is largely contingent upon the sense of vision. For 
this reason darkness greatly facilitates sexual indiscretion, 
often without a full realization of any change in attitude, or 
without causing offense to the sense of modesty. In the dark, 
nakedness seems less naked, because the condition is no longer 
apparent to sight, but only to touch. 

The cynical Casanova, whose experience in profligacy was 
inordinate — unless he boasted more shamefully than he philan- 
dered — ^remarked that the easiest way to overcome the mod- 
esty of a woman is to suppose it non-existent. He supplemented 
this by quoting an ancient maxim to the effect that modesty, 
which seems so deeply rooted in women, only resides in the 
linen that covers them, and vanishes when it vanishes. 

It has been remarked that modesty seems at times to be en- 
tirely concentrated in the blush, which has been called the 
sanction of modesty. Consequently, shame becomes less in- 
tense when the observer is unable to see one’s face and eyes 
and cheeks. The defensive mechanism of modesty tends to lose 
its effectiveness under the spell of darkness. 

Modesty and the sense of shame are manifested in different 
ways by peoples of different social culture. There is no single 
part of the human body which has not been regarded as the 
very center of modesty by some people somewhere. Women 
of the Moslem world cover the face, and would feel ashamed 
beyond words if a man other than the husband should see the 
exposed face. Arab women are even more ashamed to expose 
the back of the head than to unveil the face. 

Thus we see that modesty is a highly conventionalized senti- 

138 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

ment. The standards vary greatly among different peoples. 
The Japanese regard nudity with indifference, and the sexes 
bathe together nude in natural hot pools. They nevertheless 
wear loose garments to conceal the contour of the figure; 
whereas people of the Western World, who regard naked asso- 
ciation between the sexes as horrifying, wear clothing to 
emphasize the contour of the figure, including the secondary 
sexual characters, such as the breasts. In civilized life clothing 
tends to accentuate rather than to conceal the difference be- 
tween the sexes. 

When missionaries try to impose their ideas of proper cloth- 
ing and standards of modesty upon primitives, they often suc- 
ceed only in bewildering the barbarous mind, which has its 
own traditions of w^at is modest. We are told that an African 
Negro, struggling to harmonize these two ideas, wore a tall 
silk hat and a pair of slippers as his only garments when he 
tried to obey Livingstone’s admonition to clothe himself in 
the presence of white women. 

Lombroso reports that in the African tribe of the Dinka 
both the men and the women have a highly developed sense 
of shame. It was absolutely impossible to persuade the men to 
allow a medical examination of their genital organs, or the 
women of their breasts. 

The complete development of modesty only takes place at 
the advent of puberty, although it may appear earlier in the 
case of sexual precocity. It is not to be inferred, however, that 
modesty is purely a sexual phenomenon. The sexual factor is 
the simplest and most primitive element of modesty, but it is 
by no means the only one. The social and idealistic impulses 
also develop about puberty, and the sentiment of modesty is 
related to these as well as to the sexual impulse. 

Theologians have concerned themselves very much with the 


question of modest dress, even speculating on the raiment, 
or lack of it, most suitable for appearance in Heaven. 
Swedenborg, among others, taught that in Heaven all would 
be naked, for clothing was a punishment for the sin of 
man. Another school of thought, represented by Erasmus, con- 
tended that “angels abhor nakedness,” and that in Heaven 
men and women both would wear clothes of great richness 
and beauty. 

Modesty as Allurement. — ^It is believed that the sexual 
modesty of the female is founded in the fluctuation of her 
sexual periodicity. It is an involuntary expression of the organic 
fact that the time for love is not the present. 

It is characteristic of the male to desire the woman who is 
not too readily attained — the obstacles of amorous pursuit 
stimulating the ardor of the lover. Modesty and reluctance 
therefore become an asset to woman as the love object. This 
attribute has been described as a secondary sexual character, 
a trait that arouses sexual interest and stimulates desire. Mod- 
esty is at once a potent sexual charm, and an expression of the 
erotic impulse, however subconscious the motive may be. It has 
been noted that women who are sexually cold are notably lack- 
ing in those traits that are characteristic of feminine modesty. 

The incident of the pursuer and the pursued is an essential 
element in courtship. The coyness of the female is a phenom- 
enon noted throughout nature, and in the human sphere it is 
cultivated with all the arts of feminine ingenuity. It is the 
substance out of which the coquette concocts her endless 

Montaigne, the great French essayist and moralist, perti- 
nently asks: “What is the object of that virginal shame, that 
sedate coldness, that severe countenance, that pretense of not 
knowing things, which they understand better than we can 

140 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

teach them, except to increase in us the desire to conquer and 
curb . . . ?” 

The ingrained modesty of women toward men in courtship 
is reflected in the marriage customs and magic rites of even the 
most primitive peoples, and many of these practices have been 
preserved in current usages. 

Even the woman of easy virtue may assume the defensive 
mantle oj^ modesty, and indeed may do so quite naturally and 
legitimately, as modesty is a valid expression of the feminine 
erotic impulse. The spontaneous modesty of the young, un- 
sophisticated girl, however, has a quality of its own, a charm 
that her more worldly-wise sister can hardly affect convinc- 

The Maocal Virtue of Chastity. — Belief in the magical 
potency of chastity and asceticism is very widespread, from 
ancient times down to modern times. 

Influential chiefs in the Congo keep in their service a virgin 
to care for the arrows, shields, rugs and other war equipment. 
They are hung up in her room or on trees near it. It is believed 
that the girl’s virginity imbues these things with some extraor- 
dinary virtue which their user in turn “catches.” If the girl cus- 
todian loses her virginity, the articles are destroyed as tainted 
and dangerous to those who might use them. 

Unless medicine-women of certain Guarani tribes in Para- 
guay observed the laws of chastity, they were considered to 
have lost their effectiveness. Magical power was ascribed to the 
Virgin Sun-brides of Peru, who received a message from Prince 
Uiraccocha, after his great victory over the Chancas, announc- 
ing the triumph “which had been granted in return for their 
prayers and merits.” 

The Vestal Virgins of Rome were similarly esteemed for 

Chastity ii|i 

their supernatural powers. When Cornelia was being led to 
execution by the questionable order of Domitian, she ex- 
claimed : “Is it possible Caesar can think me polluted, under 
the influence of whose sacred functions he has conquered and 

Pliny relates the legend that in refutation of a charge of 
incest, the Vestal Tucca proceeded to carry water in a sieve 
from the Tiber to the temple of Vesta. On an occasion when 
the sacred fire went out and the responsible Vestal was sus- 
pected of unchastity rather than carelessness, she tore off a 
piece of her linen garment and threw it upon the altar. 
Straightway a great flame shot out from the dead ashes in 
proof of her innocence. 

As late as the first century, A.D., it was generally believed 
that the Vestals had the power by a certain prayer to rivet 
runaway slaves where they stood, if they were still within 
the city. A similar power was attributed to one of the gangas 
of Doango. 

The Vestals were compelled to remain unmarried during the 
thirty years they were engaged in offering sacrifices and per- 
forming other rites ordained by the law. If they permitted 
themselves to be violated they were delivered up to the most 
miserable death. 

After the expiration of the term of thirty years they might 
marry on leaving the ensigns of their priesthood, but it is said 
that very few did this, as those who did suffered calamities 
which were regarded as ominous by the rest, and induced 
them to remain virgins in the temple of the goddess till their 

One of Ovid’s narratives gives a colorful account of how the 
magic spell of chastity worked a miracle. A vessel bearing a 
statue of Cybele from Pessinus to Rome stuck fast on a shallow 

14a Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

at the mouth of the Tiber. In this crisis one Claudia, a woman 
imder suspicion of unchastity, saw a chance to vindicate her- 
self. Stepping forth from among the matrons who had gone to 
Ostia to welcome the statue that by divine decree was to be 
received by a chaste hand, she called upon the goddess to 
prove her innocence. “Chaste thyself, thou wilt follow my 
chaste hand,” she cried. Pulling slightly at the rope, she forth- 
with dislodged the vessel. 

Besides the virgins who professed perpetual virginity in the 
monasteries, there were other women, of the blood royal, who 
led the same life in their own houses, having taken a vow of 
continence. These women were held in great veneration for 
their chastity and piuity, and as a mark of worship and respect 
they were called Oc^p, a name sacred in their idolatry. How- 
ever, if they lost their virtue, they were burned alive or cast into 
the “lake of lions.” 

There is venerated in Tunis the tomb of a holy Moslem 
woman who, we are told by the faithful, adroidy transformed 
her would-be ravisher into a woman. Leila Inma Tifelleut, a 
Moslem saint of some renown, was abducted by a lawless and 
passionate suitor. When he opened the curtains of the litter to 
embrace his prize, she had been magically restored to her 
home, leaving behind her a dove to fly in the face of the 
amazed lover. 

Not only in the early period of Christianity, but throughout 
the Christian era, there is evidence of some supernatural qual- 
ity attached to chastity in the lore, legends and practices of the 
Chiuch. Even in secular literature, we find tributes paid to its 
magic charm. Milton has written: 

’Tis chastity, my brother, chastity; 

She that has that is clad in complete steel. 

Chastity 143 

Some say no evil thing that walks by night, 

In fog or fire, by lake or moorish fen, 

Blue meagre hag, or stubborn unlaid ghost 
That breaks his magic chains at curfew time. 

No goblin or swart fairy of the mine 
Hath hurtful power o’er true virginity. 

Submitting Proof of Virginity. — Until comparatively recent 
times, public exhibition of “proof of virginity” was demanded 
by custom among the peasantry in most countries of southern 
and eastern Europe. In Little Russia the proofs were paraded 
at the end of a pole through the streets of the village. In Greece 
the bride’s nightgown was left hanging for some days in the 
window. The same custom prevailed in Sicily. Even to the 
present time it is considered necessary that the bridal couch be 
inspected by the respective mothers of bride and groom, or 
other female representatives of the families. 

Among the Bedawi, also, it used to be the rule to hang the 
appropriate garments bearing the proofs of the bride’s vir- 
ginity on a lance in the middle of the camp or village, and to 
leave them there for several days. In southern Celebes the 
proofs are exhibited to the guests on a silver salver. In Balu- 
chistan, among the Brahui, the proofs of virginity are exam- 
ined by a jury of matrons. The Kulngo Negroes of the French 
Sudan exhibited in public the customary proofs. 

The custom was one of the ceremonials observed at royal 
weddings in Spain. When the Emperor Charles V married 
Isabella of Braganza the “proofs” were solemnly exhibited for 
the inspection of the assembled grandees. The fact that this 
formality prevailed in the exalted royal circles of Spain indi- 
cates the practice was implicit in the customs of the country. 

Masculine Chastity. — ^Male chastity, especially as related to 
the clergy, has been a question which has received much atten- 
tion in the history of ecclesiastical procedure, and it took many 

144 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

centuries for the Church to formulate its present definite laws 
on the subject. 

Savages as a rule do not lay much emphasis upon masculine 
chastity, other than in connection with magic rites. There have, 
however, been some exceptions noted in which this quality has 
been highly esteemed for itself. 

Writing^ of some North American Indian tribes, Chateau- 
briand tells us that the highest praise they can give to a girl is 
to say, “She is worthy to be a man’s first love.” Masculine chas- 
tity is thus esteemed a recompense for chastity in woman, 
rather than a reward for her beauty. . 

A practical form of chastity flourishes among almost all sav- 
ages. Not, however, the asceticism of permanent abstinence 
from sexual relationships as having any special merit, which is 
a denial of the laws of nature as revealed to the eyes of primi- 
tive man. The higher type of savage does esteem chastity for 
its values, magical or real, as a method of self-control which 
contributes to the attainment of important ends. 

Restraint and the ability to bear pain are invariably empha- 
sized in the initiation of youths at puberty. The practice of 
refraining from sexual intercourse before expeditions of war 
and hunting, and other serious endeavors, calling for great 
muscular and nervous strain, regardless of the reason given, is 
a shrewd method of economizing energy. 

With respect to chastity, either male or female, among 
primitive peoples, we must take into consideration the impor- 
tant fact that marriage among them usually takes place upon 
the advent of puberty, or shortly thereafter; in any event, 
much earlier than among civilized peoples. This has a direct 
bearing on the problems incident to premarital continence, if 
the tribe makes any effort to preserve sexual virtue. Many, 
perhaps most, savage tribes do not seem to do so, at least in 

Chastity 145 

the case of both sexes, and among some a qualified condition 
of promiscuity prevails. 

Continence for various periods, to commemorate some spe- 
cial event, or achieve some object, is well known in various 
parts of the world. The Tahitians, for instance, held to the be- 
lief that if a man abstained from sexual intercourse for some 
months before death, his lot was improved in the hereafter. 
This belief would tend to foster continence among men with 
any kind of sickness, even a slight illness, as the anticipation of 
death occupies an important place in the primitive mind. 

The priestess of the Whydah Snake would prescribe absti- 
nence from certain foods and from conjugal relations for those 
consulting her. 

Among numerous tribes continence for certain periods is a 
mourning observance. In mourning a New Caledonian chief, 
conjugal abstinence lasted from fifteen days to one month. 
In Sierra Leone sexual intercourse is taboo for ten days in 
mourning a commoner, and thirty days for a person of promi- 
nence. In Whydah it is taboo for one year, and among the 
Baganda during the whole mourning period. 

A young widower of the Stlatlum tribe, an inland division 
of the Salish of British Columbia, was required to forego 
sexual relations for a year, particularly if he possessed “mystery 
powers.” It was not unusual for him to exile himself into the 
forest during this mourning year to purify himself and seek 
“mystery powers.” 

vWomen are taboo to a Naga for one year from the time he 
puts up a memorial stone to his ancestors. Conjugal continence 
is observed in China during the three years’ mourning. It is 
observed by the Hindus during their ten days of mourning. 
In Egypt continence was required during the seventy-two days 
of mourning for a king. ✓ 

146 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

The prescription of continence is sometimes demanded in 
connection with fertility rites (although the opposite practice 
more often prevails); also as a weather charm and a charm 
to make fish and game plentiful. During the rain-making cere- 
monies and until the rain comes, the men of the Karamundi 
tribes of Southwest Australia are tabooed from their wives, or 
the charm 4 s spoiled. At Panai in the Torres Straits during the 
four weeks’ Mawa ceremony to ensure a good crop, no one is 
permitted to cohabit, “as it will bring bad luck.” In Nicaragua 
continence was observed during the sowing season. 

Among the Behring Strait Eskimos during the Bladder 
Festival — a propitiation of game animals Which lasts about ten 
days — ^the men keep absolutely apart from the women. The 
Indians of Nootka Sound follow the same custom during the 
week preceding an expedition. Bangala trappers on land or 
water must abstain from sexual intercourse from the time of 
making or setting up a trap until the quarry is caught and 

Siniilar rules apply to women who work in primitive agricul- 
ture. Women in New Caledonia engaged in planting are for- 
bidden sexual intercourse for a stated time before and after 
their work. The Thompson River women of British Columbia 
are required to live chastely while digging and cooking the 
sunflower root. 

In ancient Mexico, for five days before the feast to the 
divinity Mixcoatl, the god of the tornado, and for four days 
before that to Tlaloc, the god of rain, conjugal abstinence was 
observed. A similar rule prevailed in Peru in preparing for the 
annual sun festival of Raymi. 

Pliny reported that the three thousand families of the Sabaei 
who had the sacred hereditary right of cultivating the famed 
Arabian incense tree were not allowed while pruning or 

Chastity 147 

harvesting to receive “pollution” from intercourse with women 
or from contact with the dead. He added, “It is by these re- 
ligious observances that the price of the commodity is so con- 
siderably enhanced.” 

The vow of continence was the fifth of the five major vows 
of the Buddhist bhikjtjtu. Breaking it involved excommunica- 
tion. Less serious offenses were coming “into bodily contact 
with a woman, by taking hold of her hand, or by taking hold 
of her hair, or by touching any part of her body,” addressing 
“a woman with wicked words, exciting passion as those of a 
young man to a maid,” sitting with a woman in a secluded 
spot, or, unchaperoned, preaching the Dhamma “in more than 
five or six words,” to a woman. 

The coming into intimacy with sacred things in the primi- 
tive world commonly requires continence; the same condition 
applying in the practice of Christianity and other great reli- 
gions. Paul held that conjugal intimacy was incompatible with 
prayer (7 Corinthians, vii, 5). St. Jerome prescribed continence 
to the commtmicants of the early Church on Sattirday and 
Sunday, the communion days. 

Certain Christian ecclesiastics held to the theory of the 
magical danger of unchastity. In ancient Welch law a married 
priest is enumerated among the thirteen things “corrupting 
the world, and which will ever remain in it; and it can never 
be delivered of them.” 

Mosheim, an ecclesiastical historian of the eighteenth cen- 
tury, states that although marriage was permissible for the 
clergy in the third century, yet the unmarried obtained a 
higher reputation for sanctity than the married priest, “owing 
to an almost general persuasion that they, who too\ wives, 
were of all others the most subject to the influence of malig' 
nant demons." 

148 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

Under English ecclesiastical law, “at feast-tides and fast- 
tides laymen were not to have connexion with women,” and 
the married were required to abstain three nights before and 
one night after communion. The Scotch Covenanters and the 
New England Puritans even tabooed kissing on Sunday. 

The sixteenth-century Russian household rule, the Domos- 
troi, prescribes continence on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday; 
also during the fasts of the Saviour, Lent, and that of the 
Mother of God. 

There were constant disputes and controversy in the early 
centuries of Christianity between those who advocated com- 
plete continence and celibacy of the priesthood, and those 
who disagreed with this extreme course. Jovinian, the fourth- 
century Italian Churchman, vigorously opposed monachism 
and celibacy, but himself remained unmarried. Even long 
after his time, the followers of Jovinian within the Church 
continued to advocate the principles he set forth. 

St. Jerome, the leading contemporary anti-Jovinian, declared 
that a priest who has “always to offer sacrifice for the people 
must pray, and therefore always abstain from marriage.” The 
Church Councils and pontifical authority became more and 
more decided in favor of celibacy, and strict enforcement of 
this ecclesiastical law may be said to have begun with Gregory 
VII (Pope, 1073-85). 

Gregory from the first attacked the evil of clerical marriage 
and incontinence. To further his cause he stirred up the people 
to refuse to accept the sacraments from any other than a 
celibate and pure priest. 

The opponents of Gregory condemned his action as an 
innovation upon ancient discipline. Others defended it as but 
the application of the ancient discipline with renewed vigor. 
As late as the twelfth century, synods declared the marriage 


of persons in holy orders to be not only unlawful but invalid. 

According to St. Jerome the only justification for marriage 
was that it might result in the birth of virgins. He went as far 
as to say that the end and purpose of the man of God was “to 
cut down with the axe of Virginity the wood of Marriage.” 

Girdles of Chastity. — ^These strange devices have been con- 
trived by the zealous male to preserve the purity of his sexual 
property — ^wives or concubines, as may have been the case. 

Somewhere around the twelfth century, if not earlier, the 
ingenuity of man produced mechanical contrivances which 
have come to be known as girdles of chastity, or padlocks of 
chastity. It has been suggested that they were the vulgar 
materialization of an earlier symbol — the Herculean knot, 
which was used to fasten the woolen sash of the Grecian 
maiden, which the husband alone was to imtie on his nup tial 

The resemblance, however, is more marked by its dissimilar- 
ity than its likeness. The girdle of virginity, worn by the 
Hellenic maiden, was put on at puberty, and removed after 
marriage. The medieval girdle of chastity was presented to the 
wife by the husband after the marriage consummation as a 
token of mutual understanding, namely, that the wife would 
be faithful and the husband might not be consumed by jealous 
fears, particularly in his absences from home. 

It seems likely that the device was introduced into Italy from 
the East, and later adopted by other countries. One of the 
earliest incidents relating to its use is that concerning Francisco 
Carrara, the Frances II of that family, well known as the 
Tyrant of Padua. His cruelties and infamies were so notorious 
that when he was captured by the Venetians he was forthwith 

The girdle of chastity associated with Carrara, and with 

150 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

which, according to tradition, he locked up his mistresses, has 
reposed in the Ducal Palace in Venice for centuries among 
other relics of the Tyrant. 

That the practice seems to have been especially prevalent in 
the Bergamask section of Italy is indicated by the words which 
Rabelais puts into the mouth of Panurge: “The deuce, he that 
has no white in his eye, take me then with him, if I don’t 
buckle my wife in the Bergamask fashion, when I go out from 
my seraglio.” 

The folly of setting external restrictions on women in mat- 
ters of love has always been recognized by minds keen enough 
to sense the fact that forbidden fruit is invariably deemed the 
sweetest. iEneas Sylvius, who afterwards became Pope Pius 
II, is quoted as having remarked, “Those jealous Italians do 
very ill to lock up thiiir wives; for women are of such a dis- 
position they will mostly covet that which is denied most, and 
offend least when they have free liberty to trespass.” 

The account of the introduction of the chastity belt into 
France has been given by Brantome in his Les Vies des Dames 
galantes. One day at the fair at St. Germain a dealer offered a 
dozen belts for sale. Five or six jealous husbands purchased 
them and proceeded to affix them to their wives, but legend 
has it that locksmiths were soon requisitioned to make dupli- 
cate keys, which resulted in threats to the dealer by some of 
the gentlemen of the court who had been taken in by the 
false security for which he had paid. 

In the later part of the seventeenth century, Jean Buvat 
makes reference to a girdle of chastity which had been forced 
upon Charlotte Aglae d’Orleans who married the Prince of 
Modena. We are told that it was a belt of velvet, which sur- 
rounded both the loins and thighs of the wearer and appar- 
ently contained a metal plate, with a small orifice, which was 

Chastity 151 

tightly pressed against the pudenda. From what Buvat says, 
these devices were well known to him and were often used in 
Italian society. 

The literature of Germany and Austria of the sixteenth cen- 
tury also refers to the use of the belt. In this connection Fis- 
chart, in his edition of Gargantm, has a passage in which he 
mentions the wiles and cunning of females against which 
steel plates and padlocks are of no avail. 

In 1889 a skeleton was discovered in a church yard in Upper 
Austria, in which the bones of a female were still encircled by 
a chastity girdle. According to the account of the antiquarian 
who was present and able to obtain the girdle, excavations 
were made with the view to the restoration of parts of the 
church, when an ancient leaden coffin was unearthed. Around 
the pelvis region of the skeleton was a kind of hoop, joined 
in a number of places, and fitted with both an anterior and a 
posterior plate, the latter being riveted to the hip-band and the 
former being secured by locks. 

The Musee de Cluny in Paris, and other museums in Europe 
have well-known examples of these devices. One in the Farn- 
ham Museum in Blandford, Dorset, England, is a steel belt 
with engraved designs on both frontal and posterior plate. 
The ornamentation is open work, cut out of the metal, and the 
hip-band is equipped with two alternative clasps for securing 
it around the body. There are small holes around the edges of 
the plates for the purpose of sewing on a lining of velvet or 
other soft material. 

Traces of the practice of using chastity belts have been found 
even in our own country. H. W. Shoemaker, in Publications 
of the Pennsylvania Fol\ Lore Society (Altoona, 1930, xii), 
and other authorities on the folk lore of that state, refer to 
the use of chastity belts among the pioneer Pennsylvania 

152 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

women, and to a lesser extent Indian girls during the early 
history of that colony. These belts were made of heavy leather, 
studded with rivets. A strap passed between the legs and 
joined at the back other straps which were passed around the 
body, the contraption being secured by a padlock. 

Dingwall states that there were two names by which these 
belts were, known: one a Pennsylvania Dutch colloquialism, 
Eiholder, probably being a corruption of the Dutch “een 
houder” (restrainer); the other was Futsashdupper, meaning, 
according to local interpretation, “private organ shield.” 

We are told that mothers used to fit* their daughters with 
these devices when the girls went on picnics or excursions, 
and that these “Day Belts”, as they were later called, continued 
in use until comparatjyely recent times among the mountain- 
eers of Central Pennsylvania. The saying, “I’ll clap a belt on 
her”, is still heard in this section when some unruly girl proves* 
to be too fond of boys’ company. 

There is a record of the use of external means to protect the 
chastity of young girls in some barbarous tribes. Among the 
Yakut virginity was protected by an intricate arrangement of 
leather trousers secured with straps, which a girl was not 
allowed to remove even at night. 

The traditions of this unique practice, however, are bound 
up chiefly with Italy and France, where examples of the 
original belts have long reposed as museum pieces, and allu- 
sion to them in literature is quite extensive. Thus we cull from 
the sharp-witted Voltaire: 

Since that time, in Venice and in Rome 
There is no pedant, cit or gentleman 
But, to guard the virtue of his house. 

Lays up a stock of girdles and padlocks. 

There, every jealous man, without fear of blame. 

Holds under lock and key the virtue of his dame. 

Chastity 153 

Infibulation to Insure Virginity. — A more primitive 
method than the use of chastity belts or girdles, and a more 
prevalent one, is known as infibulation. The practice involves 
the use of a clasp, fibula or buckle, or other means to achieve 
the same results. The custom is of very ancient origin, and 
still survives in many parts of the world, including Siam, 
Burma, Java, certain parts of India, and many sections of 
Africa. Strabo refers to the practice as having been common 
among the Ethiopians. 

White for Purity. — Modern civilized people, too, have their 
penchant for stressing purity in connection with the wedding 
.rites and for other ceremonial purposes. The tradition of a 
white ensemble for the bride is a very old one, and in accord 
with the almost universal practice of using white as the sym- 
bol of purity. 

Among many peoples white is regarded as a sacred color, as 
well as denoting purity. White animals have been worshiped 
in certain parts of the world, notably the white elephant in 
Asia and Africa. A white dog was used by the Iroquois Indians 
as a sacrifice in their ceremonials. 

The early Romans were accustomed to wearing white on 
joyous occasions, such as feast days and other celebrations. The 
Greeks esteemed the white rose as a symbol of joy. 

It is said that the ancient Patagonians made a practice of 
painting their bodies white on all occasions of rejoicing. On 
the eve of a wedding celebration, the whole body was covered 
with an application of white substance. 

The pure white diamond, above all other precious gems, is 
most esteemed and desired by the prospective bride as the 
ideal stone for the engagement ring. 


Child Marriage 

Infant Betrothal. — ^Thc practice of arranging the marriage 
while the parties concerned arc still infants is very extensive 
in primitive societies. It should be borne in mind, however, 
that infant betrothal does not necessarily imply marriage in 
very early childhood. 

Child marriage does take place in many parts of the world 
at a tender age, an age that is all too young to fulfill the re- 
sponsibilities and obligations of matrimony, as there is abun- 
dant evidence to show. Probably a contributing factor to the 
incident of child marriage is climate, as this custom prevails 
mostly in tropical or semi-tropical lands, in which both girls 
and boys reach sexual maturity at an earlier age than in the 
cold or temporate zones. 

There are exceptions in this respect, however, as the mar- 
riage of very young girls, and boys little older, is known in 
the more northern latitudes, even among the Eskimos. With 
respect to these latter cases, it is only fair to say that the prac- 
tice does not appear to have reached the point of shameful 
abuses to undeveloped children, as it has in some instances 
elsewhere — ^in India, for example. 

There are two general types of infant betrothal. The first 
concerns the arrangement for the marriage in infancy, or even 
before birth, of boys and girls of similar age. The second prac- 

Child Marriage 155 

ticc is to betroth female infants to grown men who may be 
old enough to be their father, or even their grandfather. This 
latter form of infant betrothal is indicative of a low stage of 
civilization, and especially a society in which women are kept 
in a state of extreme subjection. The betrothal of infants or 
marriage of children to each other, with all its objections, is 
at least not a matter of sex discrimination. 

The principle of marriage by purchase has in modern times 
reached its greatest peak in Africa, where that purchasing 
power is used extensively to secure girls in infancy as future 
wives. The practice is especially prevalent in the slave-monger- 
ing regions of Western Africa. 

An illustration of the anomalous result of betrothing an 
infant with a mature man is given by a medical resident in 
Old Calabar, who states: “I have seen a strapping man, in the 
prime and vigor of life, dandling on his knees and kissing a 
baby two or three weeks old that he expects to become his 
wife and the mother of his children some fifteen or twenty 
years later. Pointing to her, he says, ‘You see my new wife?’ ” 

The child usually remains in the charge of her mother until 
the age of puberty, though she often may join the household 
of her future husband when very young and be brought up as 
one of the family. The mother of a betrothed child is con- 
sidered as acting for the future husband, and the latter ac- 
cordingly often pays her for her services and expenses while 
the immature child is in her care. 

He thus actually considers that he has the same claim on 
his child-wife as he would were she mature and living with 
him. In West Africa this extreme view is taken and no man 
except the husband dares touch or come near a betrothed or 
married woman, not even to shake hands. 

The alloting of girls at birth, or before, is the general rule 

156 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

among the Australian natives. As soon as a female child is 
born, or even before, on the presumption that it will be a girl, 
she is promised to some one of the tribe, without reference to 
the age of the intended husband, which may exceed that of 
the father. This practice is also quite prevalent throughout 
Melanesia, and was especially common in the case of chiefs 
and men of distinction among the Polynesians. 

It has been supposed that the difficulties experienced by the 
men in procuring wives, especially young wives, may be a 
principal cause of infant betrothal, which is widespread among 
uncivilized races. Its great prevalence among the Australian 
aborigines is undoubtedly due to the demand for women in 
their tribes. 

It is the custom in^Eastern Victoria to affiance more than 
one girl to the same youth, on the principle that the girl may 
die. On the other hand, one girl may be betrothed to several 
men; if the man to whom she was first betrothed dies before 
she is old enough to be claimed as his wife, then she is married 
to one of the other men. 

In New Guinea, the betrothal of infants to one another is 
the common practice, and it is said the children are formally 
married when scarcely able to walk. This latter, however, 
seems to be quite exceptional, as among a great many tribes in 
which infant betrothal is the custom, the marriage either does 
not take place, or is not consummated, until puberty. 

This practice is very common among all the peoples of 
Northern Asia, and is well-nigh universal among the Turkic 
population of Central Asia. It also prevails among some of the 
Eskimo and Alaskan tribes. 

There is related the story of a Tasmanian native who, being 
concerned about the attention which a young man was paying 
his wife, hit upon the plan of betrothing his newly born 

Child Marriage 157 

daughter to the suspected rival. From that moment it became 
impossible for the latter even to look at his future mother-in- 
law. In a previous chapter we have noted the effect of the 
raother-in-law taboo, here exemplified. 

It was a custom among the Ainu to betroth children, but 
the young man and his fianc& were not absolutely bound to 
marry. This is unusual in connection with child betrothal, as 
generally the carrying out of the arrangement sooner or later 
is a sacred obligation. 

Economy is a factor that sometimes enters into the matter 
of infant or child betrothal. Among some of the Congo tribes 
the youth selects by preference a girl-child of six or seven years 
because she can be bought more cheaply at that age than when 
she is older. There is also the desire on the part of the girl to 
come into early possession of the things which are paid for her. 

In areas where elopement or the abduction of girls is a rec- 
ognized custom, parents are desirous of marrying their daugh- 
ters as early as possible so as to prevent an undesirable run- 
away match. Child betrothal may also be a means of preserving 
the virginity of the girl, which is a quality highly regarded in 
the bride among many primitive peoples who practice mar- 
riage by purchase. 

Malinowski reports that in the Trobriand Islands infant 
betrothal is regarded at least in name as equivalent to actual 
marriage. The betrothed are spoken of as husband and wife, 
and thus address each other. Altho^ugh this status is called a 
marriage by the natives, and ceremonial rites are performed 
and gifts exchanged, there is the recognition of a difference 
between betrothal and the actual marriage, for when the two 
grow up they have to marry again. 

During the period prior to actual marriage, while it is not 
seriously expected that the couple shall be chaste and faithful 

158 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

to each other, there has to be a pretense to that effect to con- 
form to the proprieties. A flagrant transgression on either side 
would be resented by the offended party, and might even be 
called “adultery.” In brief, both parties to the betrothal must 
carry on their amours with discretion, and due regard for 
appearances. This is an interesting aspect of sexual practices 
in a primi^ve society, and shows a close analogy to the regard 
for appearances that is called for in civilized communities 
when irregularities occur in the sexual relations. 

In the Dutch East Indies also, where infant betrothal is the 
rule, the girls have complete liberty of, action until the time 
of marriage. Often the future husband wants to put a stop to 
this by hastening the nuptials. 

Child Marriage in India. — Child marriage in India is based 
on the belief that celibacy is an impiety and a misfortune: an 
impiety, because one who did not marry put the happiness of 
the males of the family in peril ; a misfortune, because he him- 
self would receive no worship after his death. 

A man’s happiness in the next world was dependent upon 
his having a continuous line of male descendants, whose duty 
it would be to make the periodical offerings for the repose of 
his soul. The adoption of a son to fulfil this requirement is a 
doubtful expedient, as the Rig-Veda regards that procedure 
as unsatisfactory. 

The ancient notion still survives in India “that a Hindu man 
must marry and beget children to perform his funeral rites, 
lest his spirit wander uneasily in the waste places of the 
earth.” The very name of son, Putra, means one who saves his 
father’s soul from the hell, called Puta. 

Furthermore, marriage completes, for the man, the regener- 
ating ceremonies, expiatory, as is believed, of the sinful taint 
which every child is supposed to contact in the mother’s 


Child Marriage 

womb; and being, for sudras and for women, the only cere- 
mony for the purpose which is allowed. This is one of the 
ordinances of the Veda. 

A high-caste Hindu can be subject to no greater reproach 
than to have an unmarried daughter at the age of puberty. A 
family with such a daughter is believed to be under the dis- 
pleasure of the gods. In a strict interpretation of certain texts 
of Hindu religious law, her unmarried status entails retrospec- 
tive damnation on three generations of ancestors. 

The sacred writings of ancient India treat the subject with 
poetic imagery, as will be noted in the following passages: 

So many seasons of menstruation as overtake a maiden feeling 
the passion of love and sought in marriage by persons of suitable 
rank, even so many are the beings destro)cd by both her father 
and mother. 

A damsel should be given in marriage before her breasts sv/tlL 
But if she have menstruated before marriage, both the giver and 
the taker fall into the abyss of hell; and her father, grandfather and 
great-grandfather are born insects in ordure. 

There is no atonement for a man who has intercourse with a 
“Vrishali”, /.e., a woman w'ho has her courses before marriage, and 
even contact through inadvertence with the husband of such a 
woman has to be atoned by ablution of both person and dress. 

The father, mother and elder brother who tolerate a girl in her 
courses before marriage go to hell. A Brahman who will marry 
such a girl is not to be spoken of or admitted into society. 

Early marriage in India therefore solves two problems ex- 
plicit in the customs and mores of the land: It insures the 
marriage of somebody’s daughter at a satisfactory age (prior 
to puberty), and it starts somebody’s son on the way to ful- 
filling his ordained mission of continuing the line of unbroken 
descendants. The souls of ancestors cannot remain in heaven 
unless there are male descendants to keep up the sacrifices. 
Male descendants, therefore, cannot be provided too soon. 

i6o Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

Under the laws of Manu a man may give his daughter in 
marriage before she is eight years old to a man of twenty-four, 
or a girl of twelve to a man of thirty, and he loses his dominion 
over her if a husband is not provided for her by the time of 
puberty. Intercourse before puberty is expressly forbidden by 
the Hindu law. 

Observers have reported that in some parts of the country 
cohabitation often takes place before the child-wife has 
reached the age of puberty, and it does so, at the latest, im- 
mediately after her first menstruation. Incidentally, puberty 
occurs among the girls of India at an earlier age — generally 
between twelve and thirteen — than in our temperate zone. 

India is a country of marriage brokers and professional 
marriage-makers. Competition between these gentlemen for 
husbands is so keen that it is no uncommon thing for a desira- 
ble husband to be approached and overtures of marriage made 
to him (or to his guardian, if he be a minor) while his present 
child-wife is breathing her last, and certainly before her body 
has been cremated. 

The Mohammedans of India, as well as the Hindus, practice 
child-marriage and tenaciously cling to it, notwithstanding the 
efforts of the British government and of the more enlightened 
native leaders to dissuade them from the custom, which has 
many harmful consequences. 

Mahatma Gandhi has declared: “I loathe and detest child 
marriages.” Furthermore, he maintains that the Hindu scrip- 
tures give no sanction to this custom, and that even if they 
do so, they are wrong. 

Of the unmarried girls in India in general only one in every 
fourteen has turned her fifteenth year. Among the Hindus 
marriage is contracted at an earlier age than among the popula- 
tion as a whole. At the higher ages practically no girl or 

Child Marriage i6i 

woman is left unmarried except those suffering from some 
infirmity or disfigurement, concubines, prostitutes, beggars, 
religious devotees and a few members of certain hypergamous 

Hypergamy requires girls to marry into a higher sub-caste 
than their own, or at least forbids them to marry into a lower 
sub-caste. By this arbitrary narrowing of the field of prospec- 
tive bridegrooms, some potential brides are forced into unde- 
sired spinsterhood, unless they become religious devotees or 
otherwise order their lives. 

The practice of hypergamy is especially apt to lead to the 
postponement of marriage in the case of poor families. A poor 
man with several daughters finds it extremely difficult to pay 
the bridegroom price, or dowry, and as a consequence his girls 
remain unmarried long after the age of puberty. This is so 
frequently the case that in various castes the hypergamous sec- 
tions no longer penalize a man for failing to marry his daugh- 
ters at the age of pubescence. 

The Zoroastrian books, like the sacred writings of India, 
stress the fact that a man should mairry and beget progeny. 
\hura Mazda said to Zoroaster: “The man who has a wife is 
tar above him who lives in continence ; he who keeps a house 
is far above him who has none; he who has children is far 
above the childless man.” 

No greater misfortune could befall an ancient Persian than 
to be childless. The bridge of Paradise was barred to him who 
had no child. The first question the angels there will ask him 
is whether he has left in this world a substitute for himself; 
and if the answer be “No,” they will pass by and he will stay 
at the head of the bridge, full of grief. The implication of this 
is that the man without a son cannot enter Paradise because 
there is nobody to pay him the family devotions. 

i 62 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

The goddess Ashi Vanguhi, the impersonification of piety, 
and the source of all the good and riches that are connected 
with piety, rejects the offerings of barren people — old men, 
courtesans and children. 

Antiquity of Child Marriage. — ^There has been considera- 
ble controversy as to whether the custom of child marriage in 
India is oh great antiquity or of comparatively modern origin. 
Some writers, inclined to the latter theory, believe the practice 
originated in the first millennium of the Christian era. Others 
maintain it goes back to prehistoric times. 

The evidence seems to favor the latter. We have it on the 
authority of Megasthenes that in his time (306-298 B. C.) early 
marriages prevailed in India in the case of girls, who might be 
wedded when seven.^years of age. 

Now what are some of the results of this age-old custom 
upon child-life in particular, and the life of women in general 
in that country ? A recent census showed that there were sixty 
million girls in India under the age of fifteen and of these 
eight and a half million were married. Among infants under 
five years of age, fifteen in a thousand were married or 
widowed. There were nearly foqj hundred thousand girl 
widows under fifteen years of age, who under the existing 
code must never remarry. 

There were also a million and a half widows between the 
ages of fifteen and twenty-five. The great number of widows 
among children and young women is due, not only to the fact 
of early marriage, often with the disparity in the ages of the 
husbands and wives, but chiefly to the prejudice against the 
remarriage of widows. 

The prohibition of widow marriage is held in the most 
strict regard by the higher caste Hindus as a mark of respect- 
ability. As is the case in almost all societies, the lower castes 

Child Marriage 1:63 

ape the practices of their superiors in order that they may 
raise their own social status. Those castes lowest in the social 
system are most apt to violate this traditional custom, as the 
bride price that may be offered the family is a strong tempta- 
tion in their poverty. 

As a means of protecting immature child-wives from phys- 
ical injury by the husband, the Indian Penal Code, as amended, 
stipulates that a man who has sexual relations with his wife 
before she reaches the age of thirteen years is guilty of rape, 
and is punished by imprisonment which may extend to ten 
years. He is also subject to a fine. 

Obviously, a law of this kind is very difficult to enforce, as 
only in the most extreme cases and under great provocation 
will the victim make complaint to the authorities. Equally 
difficult is the problem of obtaining corroborating witnesses, 
as members of neither the man’s family nor the girl’s can be 
induced to testify against a husband who, according to their 
sacred beliefs, is acting entirely within his rights. 

Among the various factors that may be mentioned as pri- 
marily responsible for the maintenance and encouragement of 
child marriages are the following: 

1. Religious tradition . — ^The custom is one of the sacred 
injunctions of Brahmanism, the most orthodox and influential 
Hindu religion, and therefore has the sanctions of religious 
authority. On the basis of this authority, it carries great weight 
among the followers of Indian religions outside of Brahman- 

2. Lxiw estimate of woman . — The deeply ingrained belief in 
India that women are by natvire utterly depraved makes a 
very early marriage necessary, as that alone can insure the 
bride reaching her husband in a state of physical purity. 
Furthermore, the fact that the girl is never consulted in a 

164 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

marriage arrangement (as an infant she would be too young 
to imderstand the consequences anyway) makes it easier to 
conclude the transaction. It is very often a “transaction” in a 
business sense, with a price paid to seal the bargain. 

3. The rigid caste system. — ^The hide-bound caste system, 
and the ever-increasing sub-divisions of the castes, requiring 
that marriage take place between principals of the same caste, 
or the approved sub-castes, greatly narrow the field of choice 
for marriage, and stimulates the competition of parents seek- 
ing suitable alliances for girls, who must be provided with hus- 
bands before attaining puberty. 

4. Poverty. — In the lower, impoverished castes where the 
fathers or guardians receive purchase money for the bride 
from the bridegroom’s family, the need or desire for this 
money is a strong inducement for an early wedding. Moreover, 
girls being an economic burden, it is all the more reason to 
leave no stone unturned to espouse them as early in life as 

5. The marriage brokers. — ^Professional match-makers whose 
business it is to find suitable husbands for girls exert all their 
persuasive powers to effect early marriages in order to collect 
their fees. Life at best being uncertain, the sooner the cere- 
monies are performed the more sure are the brokers to receive 
their percentage of the dowry as a fee. 

6. Social tradition. — Social custom having put the seal of its 
approval on child marriage, having decreed that early mar. 
riage is the proper thing, few will risk the verdict of social 
ostracism and disgrace by defying the custom. It must be 
remembered that postponement of the wedding of a daughter 
beyond the age of puberty is orthodoxly impossible, and as 
difficulty in obtaining a bridegroom reflects upon the social 

Child Marriage 

and religious status of the girl’s family, an early marriage is 
desired to avoid any chance of failure later on. 

7. Feminine intrigue in the household. — Mothers-in-law, 
aunts-in-law, and sisters-in-law dwelling in a joint-family 
home are all equally desirous that the brides who are to come 
and share the home with them shall be children, indeed young 
children, amenable to discipline and motherly handling. 

The girl-wife, too, in many cases looks forward to what she 
believes to be the glamour of the elaborate Hindu marriage 
ceremonies, which often last for not one, but many days, even 
weeks in wealthier circles, and offer a welcome change from 
the dull routine of her normal secluded life. To the immature, 
subordinated girl it is a colorful pageant in which she shines 
as the central figure — a Cinderella story come to life in which 
she is the heroine. 

8. Masculine advantages. — Not the least important of the 
powerful influences which foster the tradition of child-mar- 
riage is the advantageous sexual position accorded to men 
under the religious law which sustains it. It should be remem- 
bered that the Hindu widower may remarry over and over 
again, and at any age he can have a child-bride. Moreover, if 
one wife fails to bring him offspring he may marry a second 
one, while the joint-family system relieves him of the incon- 
veniences which might have been his lot under other circum- 
stances, inasmuch as the young wife is not necessarily called 
upon to run the household. The elder women of the establish- 
ment do that and also help the inexperienced child-wife to 
rear her children. 

9. — Suppression of infanticide. — Even the humane program 
to root out infanticide has had the effect of increasing the in- 
centive to child-marriage. The fairly successful suppression by 

i66 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

the British government of the once common practice of in- 
fanticide is by no means a negligible factor in the urge for early 
marriages. It means that the number of girls in the matrimo- 
nial market has been increased, and as a husband has to be 
found for every girl, if the family is to remain respected and in 
good social standing, the competition for desirable bride- 
grooms has become more brisk, with the tendency to lowering 
the age of matrimony. 

Child Marriage in Europe. — The Roman law stipulated the 
minimum age limits of fourteen and twelve years for the male 
and female, respectively. This law was’adoptcd by the Church 
and still remains in force in many Christian countries. A num- 
ber of other Christian nations and states have revised the 
m in imum age limit»upwards from a year or two, to several 
years, in response to agitation resulting from a more en- 
lightened social consciousness. 

In many countries, however, in which the canonic age limit 
has not been preserved, the obstacle to marrying at an earlier 
age than that which the law permits may be removed by dis- 

Not only has the general tendency of modern legislation 
been to raise the age limit, but modern civilization has gener- 
ally proved unfavorable to the frequency of marriage. In the 
industrial countries of Europe, more than a third of the male 
and female population beyond the age of fifteen live in a state 
of voluntary or involuntary celibacy. An important cause of 
the decline of the marriage rate and the rise of the age of 
marriage in Europe, as well as in modern society generally, is 
the increasing difficulty in supporting a family under existing 
economic conditions. 

The latest available United States census figures show a 
condition in this country no more favorable to marriage, as 

Child Marriage 167 

the proportion of unmarried males and females over the age 
of fifteen, including the widowed and divorced, is considera- 
bly over one-third of the total population within the same age 

It may be argued that it is unfair for statistical purposes to 
include the widowed and divorced among the unmarried, as 
these persons had once been married. It should be borne in 
mind, however, that as presently unmarried they are now in 
direct competition with the single persons, not only in the 
marriage market, but generally in the labor field as well. 

The present tendency for young married women to con- 
tinue gainful employment after marriage also makes them 
competitors in the labor market with the single workers. This 
seems inevitable and in accord with the evolution of our 
present industrial civilization. Often it is only by the joint 
earning capacity of both husband and wife that married life 
would be possible for a great many young couples, and this 
arrangement tends to promote marriages that would other- 
wise be impossible, thus reducing the celibate percentage of 
the adult population. 

During medieval times child marriages were very common 
in nearly all European countries. In England from the end of 
the thirteenth to late in the seventeenth century, child mar- 
riages were prevalent, at first in the higher classes; later 
among all classes of society. In Scotland premature marriages 
reached such proportions that in the year 1600 they were for- 
bidden; the age limits being set at fourteen and twelve years 
for males and females respectively. The reason, as is so often 
the case in eradicating a harmful social condition, was eco- 
nomic. The principal motive was to avoid feudal dues on the 
part of tenants to the crown, if the father should die and leave 
infants who would thus became their wards. 

i68 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

Marriages, too, in Italy and France at the time of the Renais- 
sance occurred at a very early age. In distinguished families 
betrothal was by no means unusual at the age of two or three 
years. At this tender age Vittoria Colonna was afhanced to the 
Marquis of Pescara. 

Consummation usually took place at the age of twelve. 
La Claviere, writing of the times, said “that was a favorite age 
with the husbands; though, according to the best judges, 
fifteen was the age when the physical charms were at their 
best, and the soul was most malleable — a view dating as far 
back as Hesiod and Aristotle.” » 

In vain the French physicians implored the men to wait at 
least tontil the fourteenth year. But they demurred, for it was 
humiliating for a father to have a fifteen-year-old daughter on 
his hands. At sixteen they would have called it a catastrophe. 

Champier, one of the most serious of the contemporary 
writers, proposed that after the age of sixteen young women 
should be provided with husbands by the State, on the lines 
of Plato’s system. It is said that some parents betrayed such 
haste to get their girls off their hands that they anticipated the 
ceremony, handing them over to their husbands-elect on the 
strength of a mere promise of fidelity. 

Looking at the subject from its various angles, child mar- 
riage in general appears to be due to several factors, prominent 
among them being: religious superstitions, especially with re- 
spect to the interests of the dead in the other world; the 
ignorance and rapacity of parents, and their utter disregard 
for the rights and well-being of the children; abuse of parental 
authority through personal vanity and social ambition; and, in 
some instances, attempts to promote the interests of the chil- 
dren, in a given society, by avoiding alternative evils inherent 
in the prevailing system. 

Child Marriage 169 

The Tragedy of iNFANXicroE. — ^The hideous practice of kill- 
ing infants — usually females — has prevailed among savages 
from primitive times. It is believed to have originated in the 
early struggles for food and security. As long as men were 
few in number, enemies scarce and game plentiful, there was 
little temptation to eliminate the female infant. In fact, there 
were some things in savage economy which women could 
do better than men — occupations which his pride or laziness 
induced him to leave to the women. 

However, with even a slight increase in population in any 
given area, with neighboring tribes encroaching upon each 
other’s game preserves, leading to wars and reprisals, female 
children became a definite handicap. They ate, and did not 
hunt or fight. They were a drain on their mothers when 
young, and, when grown up, were a temptation to rival tribes. 

As fighters and hunters were required and valued, it was to 
the interest of every tribe to rear, if possible, healthy male 
children. By the same token, it was less to their interest to rear 
females, as they were less capable of self-support and less valu- 
able to the defense of the community. Infanticide, therefore, 
grew out of this predicament. 

It is said that in Africa, where the hot climate and the 
abundance of tropical fruits make the conditions of existence 
easy, there arc no well-authenticated cases of the custom of 
destroying new-born children. 

The practice has survived down to modern times in many 
parts of the world, in most cases obviously for the reasons 
already cited. Other motives have been ascribed as the cause, 
including primitive religious observances, but it appears that 
these are merely attempted rationalizations of causes that 
had their origin in the struggle for existence. 

As a result of this cruel custom, the tribes were often left 

170 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

with a deficiency of young women of their own, thus seriously 
disturbing the natural balance of the sexes within the hordes, 
and forcing them to prey on one another for wives. 

One of the interesting theories of the origin of exogamy, as 
set forth by J. F. McLennan, is that this practice, induced by 
necessity, in time established a prejudice among the tribes 
observing^ it against marrying women of their own stock. The 
objection to this hypothesis, as Herbert Spencer has pointed 
out, is that if each tribe had fewer women than men, how 
could the tribes get wived by taking one another’s women 

Where infanticide is practiced as aTiuman sacrifice to the 
gods, it is often the male child that is preferred for the pur- 
pose of the sacrifice. It has been suggested that tribes of 
matriarchal character, in which women were dominant, used 
the male child as its sacrificial offering; the gender of the 
child being the opposite of the dominating sex in a given 
order in which infanticide is practiced. 

Infanticide is not regarded in the lower stages of culture 
as a criminal act, but as a matter of expediency in tribal life 
and economy, and parents are not condemned for refusing to 
rear a child when it is not propitious to do so. The Australian 
aborigines, among the lowest type of surviving savages, de- 
stroyed many of their offspring simply because the infants 
were “too much trouble to look after.” 

In seasons of drought the tribes near Adelaide killed all 
new-born children. Thus mass infanticide was prompted, no 
doubt, not only through want induced by the drought, but by 
a belief that there was some evil magic which connected this 
misfortune inflicted by nature with the newly born infants. 
New-born infants are always suspect among savages and they 
have many taboos to protect themselves against malevolent 
influences from this source. 

Child Maniage 171 

Among the Veddahs of Ceylon a family is not allowed more 
than three children; all above that number are killed. Like- 
wise in the Marshall Islands no child after the third was al- 
lowed to live. Failure to exercise such moderation with respect 
to progeny is commonly regarded in primitive societies as a 
manifestation of unpardonable improvidence. 

Among the natives of Ling-Chow, in Cochin-China, the im- 
provident rearing of offspring was regarded as disreputable. 
Consequently all children born during the first three years of 
marriage were regularly done away with, and in any case all 
families were limited by infanticide to a maximum of one fe- 
male and two male children. 

In certain instances, for economic reasons, the boy is sac- 
rificed rather than the girl. This was customary among the 
Abipones, because when a son grew up, it was necessary to buy 
a wife for him, whereas a price could always be obtained for 
a grown-up daughter. Perhaps this is a relic from the time 
when the tribe was matriarchal in character. 

The natives of two-thirds of the South Sea Islands prac- 
ticed infanticide more extensively than any other peoples 
known to history. The reason obviously is that the islands are 
of very limited extent and are as thickly populated as they 
could be and support life by the natural products of the 

Probably the best known instances of infanticide are those 
which existed in various forms throughout India, but which 
are now almost completely suppressed through a system of 
reporting births and deaths, and of police supervision in dis- 
tricts suspected of the practice. 

In some parts of India it was the custom to cast the child 
into the Ganges (whence the reverence paid to the crocodile, 
which fed upon the children), or to poison it with opium or 

172 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

datura spread upon the mother’s breast. Still other methods 
were used in making infanticide a sacrifice to some god. 

Although forbidden both by the Vedas and the Koran, in- 
fanticide in India was practiced principally by certain tribes of 
lower caste, as well as among the Rajputs. The persistence of 
the custom among the latter was due to the fact that it was 
consider^ dishonorable for a girl to remain unmarried, and 
the necessary expenses of her marriage were a ruinous burden 
upon the parents. 

When infanticide has become established as a custom among 
a savage race, its practice, like all usages connected with birth 
or marriage, frequently assumes a sacrificial or religious im- 
port, and by some authorities this is considered to be the ex- 
planation of the origin of the custom of sacrificing children 
to the gods. 


Matriarchy, or the Mother-Family 

The Matriarchate. — ^The hypothesis of a matriarchate, or 
a social group, clan or tribe, ruled or dominated by women is 
a controversial one, based largely on the findings presented in 
the early i86o’s by J. J. Bachofen, the scholarly Swiss ethnolo- 

It was Bachofen’s contention that since in all races there ex- 
ist survivals of a period when children took the mother’s 
name, instead of the father’s name, when property descended 
in the female line instead of the male, and women held certain 
exclusive economic privileges, these facts among other data, 
including legends and myths, indicate that at an early period 
in human society, women were generally the dominating cle- 
ment in family and tribal life. 

In brief, Bachofen explained mother-right as a consequence 
of the supremacy of women, economically and politically, in 
the early stages of primitive society. 

A Scottish contemporary, J. F. McLennan, quite independ- 
ently also arrived at the theory of mother-right, but on other 
grounds. He regarded what he called kinship through females 
only, as due to uncertain paternity resulting from early promis- 
cuity, or polyandry. 

McLennan’s hypothesis has been supported by later ethnolo- 
gists, at least in those instances where it has been known to 

174 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

prevail. Not all authorities agree that mother-right, or matri- 
lineal reckoning, has everywhere preceded father-right as a 
form of primitive family organization, but the preponderance 
of evidence seems to favor this supposition. It is inconceiv- 
able, McLennan maintains, that anything but the want of 
paternal certainty could have long prevented the acknowledg- 
ment of kinship through males. 

Morgan has shown in* his comprehensive treatises on the 
North American Indians, especially the Iroquois, not only that 
reckoning of descent took place through the female line, but 
that women did enjoy many rights and privileges not granted 
them in patriarchal savage society. They were generally on a 
plane with men politically, and economically they held su- 
perior influence anebf ower. In every way the women were the 
equals of the men, and in certain respects had decided advan- 

The maternal family system has existed in modern times not 
only among the tribes of the Iroquois Confederation and other 
American Indians, but also among certain African, Asiatic and 
Polynesian groups, notably the Kamchadales, the Chamorros, 
the Balondas, the Dyaks, the Garos, the Khasi, the Trobriand 
Islanders, the Tahitians and Tongans, and the Hovas of Mada- 

Blood kinship, or the identity of blood and body, is recog- 
nized only in the mother line by many of these peoples. There 
is often a complete ignorance of the role of the paternal ele- 
ment in procreation. As Malinowski points out with respect 
to the natives of the Trobriand Islands — who are utterly 
ignorant of physiological paternity — they believe the whole 
process of generation lies between the spirit world and the 
female organism. Their belief in this respect is so firmly estab- 
lished that there is simply no room for physical paternity. 

Matriarchy, or the Mother-Family 175 

It is now generally conceded that Bachofen and his school 
of thought were not correct in assuming, because of the ma- 
ternal line of descent, that the position of woman was neces- 
sarily a dominant one economically and politically, although 
there have been instances, and notable ones, where women 
have held such supremacy. These cases are well worth study- 

Morgan points out that in the Iroquois Long House the 
matron maintained a vigorous control of domestic affairs, and 
that in general women were accorded a position of importance 
and respect in the affairs of the tribe. They voted in the coun- 
cil of the tribe on equal terms with the men, and in economic 
matters they held a superior position. 

It has been found to be the rule among many tribes that 
while descent is reckoned through the female line, it is not the 
mother or wife who exercises an authority over the children 
and affairs, which the husband does not possess, but the 
woman’s nearest male kinsman, i.e., her brother or maternal 
uncle. These male kinsmen even exercise authority over the 
husbands who come to live with the wife’s family, which is the 
usual custom in these societies. 

The Maternal Family — Matrilocal Marriage. — ^Thc ar- 
rangement whereby the husband immediately after marriage 
goes to live with his wife’s relatives and in a sense becomes 
subordinated to the members of her family, is known as matri- 
local marriage. 

Under this system the young man regards his father-in-law’s 
house as his own, and often becomes the chief support of the 
household. He does not become his own master until after 
the death of the father-in-law. Even then, in many cases, he 
continues to be subordinated to some male member of his 
wife’s family, and in some cases to the wife. 

176 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

The Bering Strait Eskimo, who goes to live with his wife’s 
family, transfers filial duty of every kind from his own people 
to those of his wife. Among the Aleuts of Kadiak Island the 
husband always lives with the parents of his wife, although oc- 
casionally he may visit his own relatives. It is the practice for 
the husband to discard his own name, and to take that of his 
wife’s faipily. 

Among the Vancouver aborigines one of the great induce- 
ments to marriage was that the new husband thereby acquired 
hunting and fishing rights over his wife’s property. If the mar- 
riage terminated, the property reverted to the woman’s sole 
use, and became a dowry for her next matrimonial venture. 
This is an interesting phase of the wife’s ownership and con- 
trol of property, and the economic power implied in the ar- 
rangement necessarify gives her a favorable, if not a dominant, 
position in the community. 

The Kwakiutl of British Columbia had a modified form of 
the matrilocal system. The husband took up his abode in the 
home of the bride, but on making a special payment could re- 
move her after three months. The idea of marriage by pur- 
chase is bound up in this procedure, which indicates that the 
wife is essentially the property of her family, but that after 
the lapse of a suitable time — ^probably in the nature of a trial 
marriage— the wife may be removed from the family domicile 
upon payment of a stipulated bride price. 

The domestic life of the Zunis, one of the Pueblo tribes, has 
been described as almost ideal and one that might well serve 
as an example for civilized races. The house belongs to the 
women born of the family. There they come into the world, 
pass their lives and die within the maternal family walls. The 
brothers leave as they grow up to make their home with their 
respective wives. 

Matriarchy, or the Mother-Family 177 

The idyllic customs of the Zunis have been thus described 
by an observer: When the native girl takes a fancy to a young 
man, she makes him a present of hewe-bread as a token, and 
becomes affianced. He sews clothes and moccasins for her, and 
combs her hair out on the terrace in the sun. The security of 
the marriage tie rests with the woman. To her great honor, it is 
said she rarely abuses the privilege; that is, never sends her 
husband “to the home of his fathers” unless he well deserves it. 

Among some of the Caribbean tribes of the West Indies, the 
women never quit their father’s house after the marriage. 
Polygamy is sometimes practiced, and in this case the hus- 
band visits and lives with his several wives in turn at the homes 
of their respective parents. 

In Caracas, if a native takes a fancy to a girl, he tells her so 
and then goes to her home. If she gives him a basin of water 
to wash himself and something to eat, this gesture indicates 
acceptance of his proposal. There are no other formalities, and 
the marriage is consummated. The continuance of the mar- 
riage is entirely dependent upon the wishes or whims of the 
young woman. If she becomes dissatisfied with him for any 
reason, or for no reason, she dismisses him and takes another. 
He, in turn, takes another wife. 

Among some of the American Indian tribes the husband 
and wife never quit their own families and their own homes 
to make one family and one home for themselves. Each re- 
mained in his or her own home, and the children born of these 
marriages belonged to the women who bore them. The mar- 
riage did not establish anything in common between husband 
and wife except the bed, for each dwelt during the day with 
his or her parents. 

It was the custom among the Sioux for the young man, as 
soon as he became a husband, to forsake his father’s tent and 

178 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

live v?ith his wife’s people. These women were said to have 
had great ascendency over their husbands. Among the Crees 
the young husband likewise went to live with his wife’s fam- 
ily who, however, treated him as a stranger until after the 
birth of his first child. He was then finally accepted into the 
family and felt closer to them than to his own parents. 

In some of the American Indian tribes among whom the 
husband went to live with the wife’s parents, if his contribu- 
tion to the family larder through hunting and fishing was not 
satisfactory, or if for any reason his wife’s people got tired of 
him, he was dismissed. 

Upon the marriage of the eldest daughter, among the Kan- 
sas, Osage and allied tribes, she became the mistress of the 
maternal home and-her parents were subordinate to her. Her 
sisters, as they grew up, became the wives of the same hus- 
band. A great chief was usually attended by one or two wives 
who looked after his establishment, but the majority of his 
spouses remained with their own relatives, and the husband 
visited them as he pleased. 

Among the Khasi of Assam, the women hold a singularly 
favorable position in the tribal political economy. Real estate, 
houses and private property are transmitted in the maternal 
line, descending from mother to daughter. In one locality the 
position of pontiff is held by a woman, her successor being 
selected from a group of her female kin. 

The matrilocal custom of marriage prevails among the 
various tribes of the Orinoco. From the moment of marriage, 
the husband leaves his own home and dwells in the abode of 
his wife’s family. He himts and fishes for his father-in-law, and 
is entirely dependent upon him. As is the practice in most 
cases of this kind, if the wife tires of her husband, she turns 
him out of doors and the marriage is terminated. 

Matriarchy, or the Mother-Family 179 

As in the case of so many tribes of the American aborigines, 
it was the custom also, and still is, for women throughout most 
of Africa to remain after marriage with their own families. 
This rule applies from the most primitive and backward to 
the most advanced African races. 

A typical example, exogamous in character, is that of the 
Bushmen of South Africa, who led a nomadic life in small 
groups. With the consent of one of the matrons, a man might 
attach himself to a wandering band and become the husband 
of one or more of the women, contributing his share of the 
products of the chase to the group. If he proved unsatisfactory, 
the association was dissolved, and he joined another troop, 
where he found new wives. A most important requirement is 
that a man may on no account marry into a group connected 
with his own family. He must find wives in a group outside his 
kin (exogamy), and upon marriage he severs all ties with the 
family to which he belonged, and becomes a member of his 
wives’ clan. 

One of the African tribes has a proverb expressive of this 
situation: “Happy is she who has borne a daughter; a boy is 
the son of his mother-in-law.” 

David Livingstone thus describes the marital arrangement 
of the Banyai of the Zambesi region: “When a young man mar- 
ries he is obliged to come and live at their village. He has to 
perform certain services for the mother-in-law, such as keeping 
her well supplied with firewood; and when he comes into her 
presence he is obliged to sit with his knees in a bent position, 
as putting his feet towards the old lady would give her great 
offense. If he becomes tired of living in this state of vassalage 
and wishes to return to his own family, he is obliged to leave 
all his children behind; they belong to the wife.” 

The Malay family is definitely matrilocal, with some char- 

i8o Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

acteristics of its own. It has been described as a “Motherhood,” 
consisting of the old house, with the mother and her descend- 
ants in the female line, unmarried sons and daughters, daugh- 
ters’ children, and so on. The father forms no part in the ar- 

The Malayan father remains much closer in family bonds 
to his brothers and sisters than he does to his wife and chil- 
dren. Bot^ the husband and wife continue after marriage to 
live in their respective households. The husband is not even 
charged with the obligation to feed and maintain his wife and 
children; that responsibility rests upon the maternal family 
to whom the wife and children belong. 

The actual head of the family is usually the brother of the 
wife (or of the mother) called “mamak.” He has administra- 
tive authority over the property, but according to custom, it is 
his sister who keeps the family valuables and money in her 
room. The family property rests entirely within the Mother- 
hood. When a Malay dies, his personal belongings pass to his 
maternal family — first to his brothers and sisters, then to the 
children of his sisters, but never to his wife or her children. 

The Iroquois Matriaechate. — ^The Iroquois form of family 
and political organization has been cited as a conspicuous ex- 
ample of mother-right with resultant privileges and powers to 
the women of the clans. The tribes originally constituting the 
Iroquois Confederation of northwestern New York and south- 
eastern Canada were the Mohawks, Oneida, Onondaga, 
Cayuga and Seneca. At the beginning of the eighteenth cen- 
tury the Tuscarora tribe became affiliated with the league, but 
not quite on equal terms with the five great tribes. 

In addition to hunting and fishing the Iroquois tribes 
showed considerable knowledge of agriculture. They lived in 
villages consisting of a limited number of Long Houses, cow- 

Matriarchy, or the Mother-Family i8i 

ered with bark over wooden frames. The size of the houses 
may be deduced from the fact that they were often capable of 
domiciling one hundred or more individuals. The Long 
Houses were not only the family homes, but also had cere- 
monial significance. 

The ceremonial life of the Iroquois was centered about sev- 
eral great feasts, associated with their tribal economy. The 
Strawberry Festival took place in early spring, coinciding 
with the ripening of these berries; followed by the Bean and 
Raspberry Festivals. In the fall the great Corn Festival was 
celebrated with the ripening of the maize, and in late January 
or early February there was the Mid-Winter Festival, a feature 
of which was the sacrifice of a white dog by strangulation. 

The Corn, Bean and Squash were personified in the “Three 
Sisters ” — Our Mothers — of Iroquois mythology. The women 
played the leading part in the agricultural and handicraft 
activities of the tribe. The work in the fields, planting, hoeing, 
harvesting and storing the produce, as well as preparing the 
food for consumption, was almost exclusively done by the 

A considerable degree of communism was characteristic of 
early Iroquois tribal life. Certain fields, not associated with the 
individual households, were shared by the community as a 
whole. Moreover, the excess produce of the more fortunate 
families was divided among the less favored members of the 
village. The supplies from the communal fields were likewise 
partly utilized in this way, as well as for the preparation of the 
large amounts of food required at the periodic tribal festivals. 

As has been noted, woman had her obligations and respon- 
sibilities no less than her rights and privileges. This is charac- 
teristic of ail savage tribes that are matriarchal in function. The 
family organization was maternal in character, consisting of a 

iSz Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

head woman, or matron, her immediate male and female 
descendants, the male and female descendants of her female 
descendants, and so on. The maternal families, consisting of 
the individuals of three or four generations living at one time 
often numbered from fifty to as many as one hundred and 
fifty or even two hundred members. 

Each family, or clan, was closely associated with one or more 
Long Houses. The type of marriage was exogamous— no mem- 
ber of a clan being perniittcd to marry a woman of the same 
clan. The family names were totemic, taken from the names of 
animals and birds, and marriage was prohibited between per- 
sons of the same totem. 

Thus a Mohawk Bear man was not only forbidden to marry 
a Mohawk Bear woman, but the same prohibition prevented 
him from marrying af Bear woman of any of the affliated 
tribes. He must therefore marry a Hawk, Wolf or woman of 
some other totem outside his own clan. 

Upon the death of a chief, the matron of the maternal family 
to which the chief had belonged chose his successor, usually a 
maternal nephew or younger brother of the deceased chief, 
but in any event a member of the same maternal family. Hav- 
ing reached her decision, the matron would call a meeting of 
the members of her maternal family for the ratification and 
approval of her choice. 

The matron in question was then constituted a delegate to 
the chiefs of the Brother clans. Cousin clans and Council of the 
Chiefs, to obtain their concmrence in the action, which was 
usually given. It is equally interesting to know that after the 
election of the new chief, the matron of the maternal family 
continued to watch and supervise his activities. 

If the new chief proved neglectful of his duties, showed a 

Mcariarchy, or the Mother-Family 183 

tendency to intemperance or dishonesty, or proved lacking in 
patriotism in his behavior toward the tribes of traditional ene- 
mies, such as the Sioux or Algonquins, the matron forcefully 
brought the delinquencies to his attention. If he persisted in 
his offensive ways, the matron could divest the chief of his 
office. When necessary she issued an ultimatum to him in the 
following formal language: 

“I will now admonish you for the last time and if you con- 
tinue to resist to accede to and obey this request, then your 
duties as chief of our family and clan will cease, and I shall 
take the deer’s horns from off your head, and with a broad- 
edged stone axe I shall cut the tree down.” This last phrase 
symbolized his deposition as chief, and the matron received 
back the deer’s horns — ^the symbol of his chiefly office. In 
this manner was an unworthy chief deposed by the represent- 
ative woman of his clan. 

It is thus seen that although the women were not hereditary 
rulers, the office was essentially in their control, and they had 
unusual political, economic and social power and influence. 

In certain instances when a woman performed extraordinary 
acts of heroism or patriotism, for which the tribe wished to 
show grateful recognition, she was made an honorary chief- 
tain. This was termed a Pine Tree chieftainship — ^the recipient 
of the honor being conceived as straight as a pine. The office, 
however, was purely an individual honor and not transmissible 
by inheritance. 

As women constituted public opinion, and the chief was re- 
sponsible to them for his actions, very naturally no attempts 
were made to subjugate women in the manner of so many 
savage and barbarous tribes. It is an ironic reflection on the 
evolution of our own democratic way of life when we recall 

184 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

that among the Iroquois Indians, all adults, both male and 
female, were admitted to the council or democratic assembly 
where they enjoyed equal suffrage; whereas, it took decades of 
education and agitation and, in the end expensive, concen- 
trated campaigns on the part of the white women in approxi- 
mately the same area to secure like rights and privileges, which 
were finally achieved as late as the year 1919. 

The economic supremacy of the women is best illustrated by 
the fact that ownership of the land among the Iroquois, as in 
practically all the American Indian tribes, was vested in the 
women. When the Indians conveyed land to the United States 
Government, the signatures and authority of the women had 
to be obtained in order to make these transactions legally valid. 
The signatures of the .9ien were of no account. 

The matron of the maternal family in whose power it was 
to make and unmake chiefs, often knew in advance who the 
new chief was likely to be, a fact of which the prospective new 
chief was of course aware. This knowledge naturally influ- 
enced the behavior of the young man. He realized he was 
under the scrutiny of one who held supreme power, upon 
which the future of his career depended. 

The Iroquois women were not only fully equal to the men 
in their political, economic and social status, and in some re- 
spects superior, but also took a prominent part in the cere- 
monial affairs, which are always important in tribal life. Of 
the six ceremonial officials which it was customary for each 
clan to elect for the purposes of preparing and supervising 
ceremonial procedure, three were women and three were men. 
These officials made the decision as to the period when the 
great tribal festivals were to be held, selected the number and 
persoimel of the men and women who were expected to 
officiate at the festival, supervised the preparation of the huge 

Matriarchy, or the Mother-Family 185 

quantities of food required, and looked after the appropriate 
overhauling of the ceremonial Long House. 

Morgan states that all the members of an Iroquois gens 
(synonymous with “clan”) were personally free, and they 
were bound to defend each other’s freedom. They were equal 
in privileges and in personal rights. Even the sachem and 
chiefs could claim no superiority. They were a brotherhood 
bound together by the ties of kinship, and this kinship 
streamed through the female line. “Liberty, equality and fra- 
ternity, though never expressly formulated, were cardinal 
principles of the gens.” 

The gens was the simplest and lowest form of council in the 
tribe, and was thoroughly democratic, as every adult male and 
female member had a voice upon all questions brought before 
it. A social structure so democratically constituted from the 
ground up must inevitably leave the impress of its character 
upon the individuals. It helps to explain the quality of inde- 
pendence and personal integrity associated with Indian char- 
acter in its native state. In every sense of the word the history 
of the Iroquois tribes furnishes a splendid lesson in the demo- 
cratic way of life. Especially commendable is the just and 
equitable treatment, perhaps unparalleled in primitive soci- 
eties within modern times, which they accorded to the mem- 
bers of the female sex, treating them with the respect, consid- 
eration and dignity due to the mothers of the race. 

Other Examples of the Matriarchate. — Bachofen has 
shown us evidence of the ancient existence of mother-right, 
which in his terminology is synonymous with the dominance 
of women, in Lycia, Athens (before the heroic age), Egypt, 
the Italic tribes before the founding of Rome, parts of India 
and Central Asia, Lesbos, Mantinea, and among the Cantabic. 
This by no means exhausts the list. 

i86 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

Plutarch expressly stated that in Sparta women were the 
sole property owners, which in itself would be an incentive to 
dominance, or would indicate economic supremacy. 

A comparative study of feminine dominance as it has ex- 
isted among the most diverse peoples, shows in the possession 
of the female sex those privileges and advantages that arc the 
prerogatives of the male in masculine dominated society. 
Where women rule, woman is the wooer. The man furnishes 
the dowry. 

The woman has the sole right of disposal over the common 
possessions. Often she alone is entitled to divorce her mate, if 
he is no longer agreeable to her. The husband adopts the name 
and nationality of the wife’s family. The children are named 
after the mother anijlnherit from the mother. The parental 
duty of providing for the children is imposed on the dominant 
sex — the woman. Where the primitive custom of infanticide 
prevails under female supremacy, boys and not girls are the 

The gods, or at least the leading divinities, are for the most 
part feminine. Should it be stated in refutation that feminine 
divinities are also exalted in patriarchal societies, it may be 
pointed out that in all cases these tribal goddesses arc of very 
ancient inception, and may well have originated under a pre- 
vious or matriarchal system. They would thus quite nattirally 
be carried over, as all peo^es are reluctant to discard customs 
that bear the sanctions of religious authority, even when their 
original meaning has been lost. 

Matriarchy therefore implies a reversal of the sexual privi- 
leges and prerogatives that obtain in a patriarchy or male 
dominated society. It is a well-known axiom that economic 
power is the source of social and political prestige and su- 
premacy, and women certainly have held economic dominance 

Matriarchy, or the Mother-Family 187 

among many ancient and primitive peoples. In numerous ex- 
amples of mother-right, some of which have been cited in this 
chapter, women have held the social advantages inherent in 
their economic control. 

It is evident from the research of Max Muller, the famous 
philologist, that the women of ancient Egypt were sexually 
the aggressors, in much the same manner that man is in mod- 
ern society. Without a due regard for the natural behavioristic 
consequences of a feminine dominated society, he expressed 
surprise that “Egyptian women had been over-ready to play 
the man’s part.” He continued: “At least it seemed perfectly 
natural to the ancient Egyptian poets that an invitation to an 
assignation, in a poem packed with allusions, should proceed 
from a woman. To crown it all, the Egyptian man took delight 
in representing his inamorata as playing the seducer’s part, 
as not content simply to run after him, but as plying him 
with wine and other intoxicants.” 

As Muller, like many otherwise able ethnologists, was not 
cognizant of the implications of matriarchal rule, he failed to 
grasp the real significance of his observations, and therefore 
expressed amazement and surprise that women could act in 
so forthright a manner. Other Egyptologists have commented 
on the fact, from their study of the ancient literature of the 
country, that in Egypt women were the wooers, and took the 
initiative in matters of love. 

In the wooing of Joseph by Potiphar’s wife, the onus of the 
episode is thrown upon the woman because of her aggressive- 
ness. Joseph indignantly rejects the attempt to seduce him, 
and as a final resort runs away to preserve his chastity. The 
narrative is related with a solemn commendation of his mas- 
culine virtue, and contempt for the female seducer {Genesis, 
xxxix, 1-16). Here, too, we have the influence of the ancient 

i88 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

Egyptian mores, as Potiphar and his wife were Egyptians, im- 
bued with the customs of their native land. Joseph, on the 
other hand, was bred in the patriarchal traditions of the He- 
brews, who held to a sexual code that acted quite the reverse 
of the Egyptian. 

Diodorus, who lived at the time of Caesar, was quite indig- 
nant over the position of women in Egypt. He resented the 
fact that in Egypt not the sons, but the daughters supported 
their aged parents. He therefore spoke disparagingly of the 
hen-pecked men of the Nile, who granted rights and privi- 
leges to the weaker sex that seemed oiltrageous to a Roman 
or Greek. 

The wife in ancient Egypt exacted a promise of obedience 
from the husband, nmch the same as the traditional promise 
in western marriage which men receive from their wives to 
“Love, honor and obey.” Diodorus remarked that among the 
people the wife had authority over the husband, and in the 
marriage contract the husband had expressly to “pledge him- 
self to obey his wife.” 

Herodotus noted that among the Lydians the women not 
only sought out their mates, but assumed the role in the eco- 
nomic life of the community that is generally held by men. 
Wooing by the women plays an important part in the ancient 
sagas of Hindustan. By the Laws of Manu, a girl is permitted 
the free choice of her husband — a law long since nullified by 
the perverted customs of succeeding patriarchal dominance. 

Among the Balonda, a rugged Negro tribe at the Zambesi 
in Africa, the women held a position economically superior to 
that of the men, as reported by Livingstone and other mission- 
aries and explorers. Women are members of the tribal council. 
When a young Balonda marries, he must migrate from his vil- 
lage to the one in which his wife resides. He must at the same 

Matriarchy, or the Mother-Family 189 

time pledge himself to provide his mother-in-law with kin- 
dling wood for her lifetime. The husband was so completely 
subject to his wife that he could do nothing whatever without 
her approval. No agreement was binding without her consent, 
and even the performance of some trifling service called foi 
her concurrence. The woman, in turn, must provide her hus' 
band’s food. Here we have the woman responsible for the fam- 
ily’s maintenance, just the reverse of the status that obtains in 
the patriarchal family system. 

Jaeckel, referring to the Khasi tribe of Assam, stated that the 
girls are the wooers. The courted male “has to make a vigorous 
resistance, culminating in flight. He is finally captured and led 
back to the nuptial residence amid the lamentations of the 
parents.” Here we have a relic of marriage by capture in re- 
verse, the bridegroom being the object of the chase. 

Similarly, among the Kamchadales, where the female sex 
appeared in many respects to have been dominant, the women 
were the wooers. We are told that the women positively 
fought for the possession of eligible men. The men were so 
subordinate to their wives that a husband never secured any- 
thing from his wife by force, but achieved his ends only by the 
humblest and most persistent petitions and caresses. 

The Chamorro men, of the northwestern Pacific Ocean 
islands, who were famous for their physical strength, were 
kept in complete subjection by their wives. The legal status 
of the women was higher than that of the men, which is the 
best indication of matriarchic rule, as the tendency of any rul- 
ing group is to keep a monopoly of power by legal sanction. 
If a man for any cause gave his wife dissatisfaction, she did not 
hesitate to chastise him by physical means. 

Women, too, had a freedom in sexual matters not possessed 
by the men. Conjugal infidelity was severely punished in hus- 

igo Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

bands, even when the offense was merely suspected, not 
proved. The accused husband was taken in hand by the 
women of the community. If the wife proved unfaithful, how- 
ever, the husband had no redress. Under the circumstances, it 
was only the women who were privileged libertines. 

A parallel situation prevailed among the Kamchadales. The 
married pen had to conceal their illicit love affairs with the 
utmost care. The wives on the other hand openly indulged in 
amours, not considering it necessary to hide their infidelities 
from their husbands. 

Winwood Read remarked that amoijg savages generally it is 
the male seducer who suffers, not the unfaithful wife. This is 
the reverse of what happens in a patriarchal society. He wrote 
at a period when little attention was paid to matriarchal influ- 
ences, and so he faded to note the connection among many of 
the savage tribes of which his remark was true. Among patri- 
archal groups the unfaithful wife is most severely dealt with, 
not infrequently killed, or sold into slavery. 

Supremacy of the Hemitic Women. — ^Matriarchal institu- 
tions are still very much in evidence among the Hemitic peo- 
ple who occupy extensive territory in North Africa. Among 
them the woman owns the property, which she bequeaths 
in the female line; the man being entirely without property. 
Her name and social status are handed down to her female 
heirs. Descent from the woman determines the caste. The man 
may be a slave or a bondsman, but if the woman belongs to a 
high caste, the children will be high-born. 

Again her economic superiority is evidenced not only in the 
ownership of property, but in the fact that the woman does 
and has charge of all the work. She makes the skins into leather 
and prepares the leather clothing and tents. She milks the 
cows, makes the butter, mends and weaves. The erection of 

Matriarchy, or the Mother-Family 191 

the dwelling tents, or their removal, is her work. The man 
hunts, tends the cattle and engages in the wars. 

It should be emphasized, in connection with the great 
amount of hard physical work that falls upon the woman’s 
shoulders in matriarchal society, that this is neither a hard- 
ship nor a social drawback. We have seen this also in the case 
of the Iroquois society. The woman in the matriarchal order 
accepts her responsibilities, including hard toil, with her privi- 
leges. This training gives her the physical strength and self- 
discipline necessary to maintain her rights and do minatin g 

Briflault points out that as workers, primitive women are 
generally more muscular and better developed, and sometimes 
larger, than the men. In several uncultivated races, the average 
height of the women is greater than that of the men. 

Among these Hemitic people the woman characteristically 
chooses the husband, usually making her selection from 
among various rivals. Later, if a more attractive, daring or ac- 
ceptable man appears on the scene, she may woo him with the 
same insistence. The husband, being subordinate, can do noth- 
ing in particular about it, and if he becomes objectionable, he 
is simply dismissed altogether. 

In the true matriarchal society, while the wife has the right 
to divorce her husband, the latter does not enjoy a similar 
privilege. This, again, is a reversal of the divorce status in the 
primitive patriarchal way of life. 

As a matter of fact, in the matriarchal order, the woman not 
infrequently showers her affections on her brother, to the 
neglect of her husband, subjects the latter to tyrannical tem- 
pers, and has no hesitancy in letting him feel her antipathy. 

Polyandry seems to be a custom more prevalent in matri- 
archal than in patriarchal societies — polygamy being character- 

192 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

istic of the latter in their primitive forms. Strabo noted the ex- 
istence of polyandry among the Arabs at a period when 
women exercised a dominant role. 

Among the peoples of matriarchal character who practiced 
polyandry were the Garos, the Nayars, the Tlingits, the Sakai, 
and tribes of like tradition in Tibet and in Burma. 

The Parsing of the Age of Mother-Right. — ^The numerous 
instances in savage communities in which we find fragments 
or recognizable traces of the maternal family suggest the last 
remaining remnants of a definite matriarchal society. They 
connote the evidence of a passing order — the original mother- 
family, with its privileges and prerogatives, in process of final 
disintegration or transition into paternal patterns. 

Unfortunately, ther origins of these customs are lost irre- 
trievably, and only the shadowy, nebulous forms of legends 
and myths remain, in some instances, to account for the exist- 
ence of female rulership in family and tribal life. Stories such 
as the Amazonian legends survive to remind us of the exploits 
of women who rebelled en masse against the tyrannous re- 
strictions of the rising patriarchy. 

We do know that the structure of society and the form of 
family life have gone through drastic changes in their evolu- 
tionary development. There is logic in the assumption, and at 
least circumstantial evidence to indicate, that the lowest stage 
of family organization in some sections of the world was 
hetairism, in which all the women of the group were wives in 
common. Matriarchy, the supremacy of woman over man in 
the family and clan, accounted for the middle stage. The third 
stage was patriarchy, the prerogative of man, which has been 
the prevalent system within historic times. Our present mari- 
tal arrangement is the pairing system, with patriarchal influ- 
ences predominating. 

Matriarchy, or the Mother-Family 193 

Considering the differences of the races, the diversity of 
social cultures in their unlike environments, and the isolation 
of many of them in a world with only rudimentary means of 
communication, there could have been no uniform change 
in their development. There must have been an overlapping 
of two, and sometimes of all three, of these forms of family 
and tribal systems over a great period of time. A study of the 
social life of many diverse races in modern times reveals rem- 
nants and vestiges of previous forms of family and tribal struc- 
ture in the midst of a current form of quite different, even re- 
verse, character. 

Under matriarchal law comparatively peaceful conditions 
prevailed. Woman is biologically the conservator. Social rela- 
tions were simple and the mode of life was a primitive one. 
The various tribes generally respected each other’s domain. If 
one tribe was attacked by another the men took up arms for 
defense, and were ably supported by the women. The women 
generally were not inferior to the men in physical strength 
and skill, and could when necessary give a good account of 
themselves in combat with men. 


Patriarchy, or the Father-Family 

The Rise of Patriarchal Rule— What are the factors that 
induced a gradual change from matriarchy, or female domi- 
nance, to patriarchy, which has been the source of our charac- 
teristic western family and social traditions ? Change in living 
conditions due to gt^ater emphasis on landed property and its 
transmission, the rise of the industrial arts, wars, resulting from 
the new social stimuli and frictions, pressure of population, 
etc., seem to furnish the answer. All of these factors tended to 
increase masculine influence, as the male is biologically the 
more active and aggressive of the sexes. 

The change in mode of life from primitive agriculture to 
pastoral pursuits seems to have been the primary decisive in- 
fluence in the transition. With the domestication of cattle and 
the growth of flocks, there appears a change in the social rela- 
tionship of men and women. The possession of herds and 
flocks forced the herdsmen to range more widely, so that the 
men became more out of touch with, and out of authority in, 
their wives’ kinship clan. 

Where pastoral society had not come into existence, the pa- 
triarchal order had not developed. Confirmation of this is 
found on the American continent, where no domestication of 
cattle had taken place prior to the settlement by Europeans 
and the social order everywhere remained primarily matri- 


Patriarchy, or the Father-Family 195 

archal, wheteas it had disappeared in the pastoral life of 
Europe and most of Asia. 

on the other hand, which derived its wealth primarily 
from agriculture and had never experienced pastoral life on a 
large scale, remained singularly exceptional as a country of 
matriarchal traditions in a high stage of cultural development 
and prosperity. 

Professor Sumner has suggested that the change and transfer 
of dominance from the mother-family to the father-family may 
well be considered the greatest and most revolutionary in the 
history of civilization. 

In the primitive economy of matriarchal society, women not 
only owned and held title to the land and other property, but 
performed most of the labor in agriculture and craftsmanship, 
as well as the domestic work. One of the fundamental differ- 
ences between matriarchal and patriarchal ideology is that in 
the former society, hard work is implicit in ownership, while 
in the latter manual labor is, wherever possible, shunted upon 
an underprivileged class. In the earliest forms of patriarchy, it 
became the custom to enslave the men of vanquished enemy 
tribes, whereas formerly they had been killed. 

The point has been made by Briffault that the enormous 
amount of labor performed by the women and die compara- 
tive leisure enjoyed by the men served to convey the erroneous 
impression that women in uncultivated society are in a condi- 
tion of abject slavery, and ihat the degree of civilization may 
be measured by the idle status of women. This he labels as a 
patriarchal fallacy and misinterpretation, and the exact oppo- 
site of the truth. 

The activity of the men and the idleness of the women — i.e., 
upper-class women — in patriarchal civilization is the measure^ 
of women’s economic subjection. 

ig6 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

The reverse state of things in primitive societies is the most 
firm guarantee against the possibility of female subjugation in 
those societies. The patriarchal subjection of women was only 
established when they became idle, or, more accurately, when 
they were separated from the labor and activities of clan econ- 
omy, other than the domestic. They lost power and control 
when thfeir hands were removed from the implements of labor. 
The use of implements of labor in primitive society is synony- 
mous with ownership and control, and the latter position indi- 
cates economic dominance. Exceptions become evident only 
with the development of a slave class.’ 

With the production of the necessities of life at a low stage 
of development, and capable of satisfying only the simplest 
demands, there wa» a minimum of rivalry between neighbor- 
ing tribes. However, with the expansion of pastoral pursuits 
and the increase in population, resulting in rivalry for land 
and for the marketing of products, conflicts became increas- 
ingly frequent and intensified. The male, who played a sec- 
ondary role in primitive economic life, hunting, fishing and 
occasionally fighting, became a more important figure with 
the demands upon him as a militant herdsman and professional 

Furthermore, with the greater diversity of possessions, there 
ensued an increased division and specialization of labor. Agri- 
culture and cattle-breeding increased beyond their former 
simple scope of family and clan activities. Tools and imple- 
ments were required which necessitated special knowledge, 
and the making of these, too, became the province of men. 
Thus new sources of wealth and power came into possession 
of man, and he became the owner and master. 

We know that among the peoples who practice mother- 
right, it is the custom for the married man to live and become 

Patriarchy, or the Father-Family 197 

identified with the wife’s family, which contributes to his in- 
ferior status. The ancient patriarchal family was founded upon 
the marriage of one man and several wives, and, if the man 
was so inclined, the right of maintaining as many concubines 
as his means permitted. 

With the rise of the patriarchal family, the husband began 
to take the woman away from her parents into his family 
abode. The practice of paying the bride’s family for this privi- 
lege resulted in the traditional custom of marriage by pur- 
chase, or later by contract. Thus the relation of a wife to her 
husband became analogous to property. The same is true of 
the relation of children to the father. It is the father’s right 
and privilege to sell his daughters and otherwise exercise tyran- 
nical control over them, as well as over the sons. 

Patriarchal authority having in time become established, 
there came with it the change from matrilinear to patrilinear 
descent, both with respect to name and property rights. The 
father, or patriarch, used the influence of his ownership of 
property — which often included flocks and slaves, weapons 
and produce — as means to exact obedience from his sons, espe- 
cially the eldest, who generally inherited the property or the 
major part of it. 

The genealogies and stories of family customs and conduct 
in the Old Testament offer a typical example of the patriarchal 
way of life. Patriarchy was already well established among the 
ancient Hebrews, a pastoral people, at that early period. 

Among the contemporary inhabitants of a neighboring 
country, Egypt, mother-right was still the prevalent system, 
and the economic and social practices of the two peoples illus- 
trate the contrasting characteristics of the two types of society. 

Among the ancient Hebrews, as among all patriarchal peo- 
ples, women were utterly deprived of rights. Marriage was 

198 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

arranged by purchase or contract. Unqualified chastity was 
demanded of the woman, but not so of the man. Polygamy 
was permitted, and the man might not only have several wives, 
but concubines as well, if his means permitted the luxury. 

If the man had reason to believe his wife had lost her vir- 
ginity before their marriage, he was not only entitled to cast 
her off, but she might be stoned to death. The same punish- 
ment was accorded to the adulteress, but a man was subject to 
the same punishment only when he committed adultery with 
a Jewish matron. 

The patriarchal family was belligerent and strongly mili- 
taristic, in contrast to the more passive and tranquil tendencies 
of the matriarchy. It was well adapted to serve the purposes of 
alien adventurers in their conquests over more peaceful agri- 
cultural peoples. 

Patriarchy was thus fostered and became firmly entrenched 
by the Roman conquests of northern and middle Europe. The 
last remnants of any matriarchal practices or traditions that 
may have remained were rooted out as the countries of Europe 
became more and more an operating field for predatory 
hordes, mercenaries and armies. 

The system fitted in with the institutions of slavery and serf- 
dom on one hand, and ruling castes and militaristic authority 
on the other. In the patriarchal family wives and children were 
not only regarded to all practical purposes as property — as 
much so as slaves, serfs and cattle — but were even so in a legal 
sense. The father’s authority was absolute over his children, 
even to life and death, and the legal status of the wife was very 
much the same as thgt of the child. 

Old Russia the Last Patriarchy.— With the passing of 
patriarchy in its pristine form as a result of the decline of 
feudalism and the French and industrial revolutions, the last 

Patriarchy, or the Father-Family 199 

remaining evidence of the patriarchal family in anything like 
its real character was to be found in old Russia of the early and 
middle nineteenth century. Czarist Russia was too firmly 
rooted in the past to make anything but a slow transition. 

LePlay, the reactionary French sociologist, wrote in evident 
admiration of this flourishing social anachronism as follows: 
“The old parents, finding ample means of subsistence in the 
nature of their locality, are able to gather around them four 
generations of their own blood. The father of the f amil y^ 
whose power is justified by his long experience, possesses the 
necessary ascendancy to hold both youth and ripe age in sub- 
mission to the Decalogue and to custom.” Later in this chapter 
we shall discuss the practice known as jus primae noctis, or 
“right of first night”, which was a privilege of the patriarchal 
master, and survived in many places throughout the feudal 
period. This custom, with other sexual anomalies, continued 
in Russia down into the nineteenth century, long after it had 
become outmoded in western Europe. The marriage of chil- 
dren was in the absolute control of the father. When a youth 
reached the age of eighteen he was married without delay. 
Westermarck and others have related how the father was 
often anxious to marry his son at an earlier age in order to 
secure an additional female laborer, and then cohabited him- 
self with the young wife during the son’s minority. It was a 
common practice of the father to marry his young sons to 
grown-up women. 

Baron von Haxthausen wrote before the Emancipation in 
1861, “the patriarchal government, feelings and organization 
are in full activity in the life, manners and customs of the 
Great Russians.” The adult son was subject to his father’s 
authority until he himself had children and became the head 
of a family. 

200 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

Marriages were so arbitrarily arranged by parents in the 
upper classes that the bride and bridegroom frequently never 
saw each other before the wedding. Among the peasantry and 
lower classes, they saw each other but never dared to speak 
about marriage because that was a thing which did not depend 
upon themselves. 

While patriarchy has long since passed on as the dominant 
family system in modern society, traces of it still linger, as do 
remnants of even older systems. In fact many of our prevalent 
ideas and concepts with respect to sexual practices and rela- 
tions between the sexes are heritages fwjm the patriarchal age. 

The double code of morality — a loose one for men and a 
restrictive one for women — ^is a survival of the patriarchal 
mores. The present^ tendency in our transitional period is to- 
ward a single moraf code, the adjustment being made by a 
relatively more monogamous practice on the part of the male 
sex, and relatively greater freedom than in the past on the part 
of the female gender. 

Strict paternal authority and arranged marriage are tradi- 
tions which have survived and come down almost to the 
present day in many places, and still find existence in some 
localities and instances. 

The traditional attitude toward illegitimacy, which has 
found cruel expression in the laws and mores of most European 
countries and America, definitely of patriarchal origin. Heart- 
less severity in dealing with the offending woman and the 
illegitimate child was characteristically the patriarch’s firm at- 
tempt to transmit his possessions and the family name only 
through legitimate heirs. 

The faithless woman commits the worst deception possible 
in the patriarchal mind. She brings another man’s children 
into his house to become the heirs of his property and name. 

Pcariarchy, or the Father-Family 201 

For this reason adultery, when committed by a woman, was 
punishable by death or slavery among all ancient peoples of 
masculine dominance. And the laws were formulated so that 
illegitimate children were deprived of name, family and rights. 

The humanitarian maxim that there are no illegitimate chil- 
dren, only illegitimate parents, is a definite break with the 
ancient code. This enlightened concept is finding increasing 
expression in the laws of many states and countries. 

The patriarchal principle which separated woman from 
ownership, resulting in upper-class circles in making a virtue 
of female idleness, has brought a train of untold neurotic dis- 
turbances to woman’s life. The more prosperous middle class, 
ever ready to ape the ideology of its superiors, has adopted the 
practice, so that girls by training frequently become neurotic 
misfits, and only too often “gold-diggers” or “alimony-himt- 
ers”, unfit to be useful, contented wives under any circum- 

Patriarchy in Ancient Greece. — That a matriarchal system 
once existed in prehistoric Greece seems evident from some of 
its customs and legends. The annual celebration of the Therm- 
ophoria clearly exhibits all the evidences of such a regime. It 
was customary in Greece for women to appeal for advice and 
help to the goddesses only. Even at a later period Hellenic 
women celebrated the old festival in honor of Demeter, which 
lasted for five days, and in which no man was allowed to 

Religious customs are always the last of traditions to give 
way before a new epoch, and the Hellenic religion inevitably 
reflected the dominating character of ancient society. Among 
the ancient Hebrews we see patriarchy indicated in the charac- 
ter of the personalities and the manner of worship portrayed 
in the Old Testament. 

202 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

In ancient Egypt we find the matriarchy just as clearly evi- 
denced in the worship of the beneficent Sun gods Re and 
Osiris, and of the wise goddess Isis, whose magic powers typi- 
fied the aspirations of Egyptian womanhood and reflected its 
dignity in the social life of the country. 

The decline of the matriarchy in Greece forms the theme of 
the nati\}e myths, legends and drama. The tragedy Agamem- 
non by Aeschylus relates a deadly intra-family feud between 
Agamemnon, King of Mycenae and his wife Clytemnestra, 
that in the conflict of personalities dramatizes the struggle be- 
tween the sexes for power and dominance. Some of the repre- 
sentative tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides likewise give 
dramatic expression to the jealousies and craving for power 
that typified the rivalries of the sexes in the transitional period 
from matriarchy to patriarchy. 

In the patriarchal period of Athens married women and 
their daughters were restricted to the home and isolated in 
special rooms called gynacontis, wherein they dwelled and 
performed their domestic duties. They were denied social in- 
tercourse with men who visited the home. Even widows were 
under the domination of their nearest male relative, and were 
not at liberty to choose a husband. In Homer’s Odyssey, we 
find Telemachus, in the following language, forbidding his 
mother to be present among her suitors: 

“But go now to the home, and attend to thy household affairs; 

To the spinning wheel and the loom, and bid thy maids be assiduous 

At the tasks that to them were allotted. To speak is the privilege of 

And mine is especially this privilege, for I am the lord of the house.” 

It would have been unthinkable for an Iroquois matron to 
have been spoken to in that manner by any male member of 
the clan. Neither a common brave nor an exalted chief would 

Matriarchy, or the Father-Family 203 

have dared to dictate to a clanswoman as to the course of her 
personal or domestic affairs. 

Upon leaving the house the Athenian matron was required 
to veil her face, so as not to arouse the desires of other men. 
The wife did not address her husband by name, but called him 
master — for such he was. She shared the husband’s bed, but not 
his table. If she were known to commit adultery, the penalty 
for her sin was the forfeiture of life or liberty. Her husband 
might mercifully sell her as a slave. 

The position of the man in his patriarchal glory was some- 
thing entirely different. He enjoyed the utmost freedom in 
matters of sex. Courtesanship was developed on a scale as clas- 
sic as other Greek arts. Women of beauty and intellect, usually 
foreigners, chose a free life in the closest association with men 
rather than accept the thraldom of marriage. The status of 
these women was far removed from a degrading prostitution, 
as the free living courtesans were in fact intellectual compan- 
ions no less than sexual paramours. 

The names and fame of these courtesans who consorted with 
the illustrious men of Greece, and particularly their intellectual 
discussions at the great banquets, are recorded in the pages of 
history, while the names of the wives are lost and unknown. 
One of the most famous of these women was Aspasia — noted 
for her genius, beauty and political influence — intimate of the 
great Pericles, who finally made her his wife, but she achieved 
her undying fame while still his mistress. 

The wit of Phryne made her an intimate of Hyperides, and 
her beauty caused her to be selected by Praxiteles, one of the 
principal sculptors of Greece, as a model for his statue of 
Venus. Archsnassa was the mistress of Plato, and Danac sup- 
plied intellectual companionship and amorous diversion for 
Epicure. Lais of Corinth, Gnethanea, and other courtesans of 

204 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

equal fame afforded mental stimulus and erotic solace to the 
famous Athenian men of their period. 

Demosthenes in his oration against Neaera pictured the atti- 
tude of the Greek men with respect to the sexual relations, as 
follows: “We marry women to have legitimate children and 
to have faithful guardians of our homes. We maintain concu- 
bines for/3ur daily service and comfort, and courtesans for the 
enjoyment of love.” 

Prostitution developed to cater to the younger men, as 
would be expected in a society of the patriarchal type. Solon, 
who formulated the new laws of Athens, upon which his fame 
rests, introduced the public brothel under the administration 
of the local authorities. He decreed a one-price rate to all vis- 
itors, amounting to one obolus, which is estimated to be about 
six cents in American money. 

The double standard of morality, and the class basis of pros- 
titution — both fostered by the patriarchal mores — are evident 
in the following tribute to Solon by one of his contemporaries: 
“Solon, be praised ! For thou didst purchase public women for 
the welfare of the city, to preserve the morals of the city that 
is full of strong, young men, who, without thy wise institu- 
tion, would indulge in the annoying pursuit of better-class 

The Roman Patriarchy. — ^The most typical of all forms of 
patriarchy is that associated with Rome. The law of male de- 
scent was very dear to the Romans of rank, so much so that 
the name patrician was given to those who could point to their 
definite line of fathers and forefathers, indicating purity of 
blood and consequent political and social standing. 

The very name patrician means “of the rank and dignity of 
the fathers.” All power was centered in the father, or elder 
male of the family. Their foremost jurists boasted that scarcely 

Patriarchy, or the Father-Family 205 

any other race of men had the same power over their sons as 
the Romans. 

One theory of the origin of the patrician class is that it was a 
Sabine race which conquered a L igurian people established on 
the site of primitive Rome. The survivors of the conquered 
Ligurians become the plebeians, or common people of Rome. 
Briffault submits evidence to show that the social constitution 
of these aboriginal Romans (later the subservient class) 
was matriarchal, and that the clan organization consisted of 
“Motherhoods.” All matriarchal influences and tendencies 
were promptly rooted out by the patricians. 

The patricians were an aristocracy of birth and the heredi- 
tary ruling class. The family or commtmity of kinship was 
designated by the term gens. The Roman gens included all 
those who could trace their descent, through males, from a 
common ancestor. It therefore consisted of many families 
allied by blood ties. 

The hostility between the plebeians and the patricians was 
deep-seated and long-lasting. The two hostile classes repre- 
sented not only a clash between the poor and the rich, between 
the influential and the disfranchised, but originally it was also 
a conflict between two forms of social organizations — the 
primitive matriarchal order and the rising patriarchal order. 
The latter won out because it was riding the tide of a far- 
reaching social ascendancy, the character of which has already 
been described. In the course of time the patricians and the 
plebeians became merged into one political class of Roman 
citizens, along patriarchal lines, with equal rights, at least 

The Romans held careful control over the marriage laws. 
Marriage was permitted only between Roman citizens, or be- 
tween Romans and such foreigners as had by treaty the right 

2o6 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

of intermarrying with Romans. The legal contract which was 
enacted by the marriage ceremony was to all intents and pur- 
poses a deed of transfer or conveyance of the wife from her 
family to the husband. 

The authority of the father as head of the clan was formu- 
lated as early as 450 B.C. in the Laws of the Twelve Tables. 
Paternal autjiority, or patria potestas, which presently will be 
more fully defined, was set forth in detail. The authority exer- 
cised by the father over his wife was known as “manus”, ije., 
“in or under the hand” of the head of the house. 

True marriage, or matrimonium justum, was permissible 
only between persons of equal social rank, but it involved 
various types of ceremonies differing in character and prevail- 
ing on different social levels. 

Marriage could thus lie performed with or without “manus” 
— subordination of the wife to the husband. If this condition 
was accepted, the marriage was known as cum manu, indicat- 
ing that the wife was to pass under the tutelage of her hus- 
band. This status was accepted by the majority of marriages 
in the early period. 

Marriage without “manus” indicated that the wife remained 
under the tutelage of her father. This status, while it also kept 
the woman under strict patriarchal supervision, had a certain 
strategic advantage for the wife, as there were sentimental ties 
with her father and his family which did not obtain with re- 
spect to the husband and his family. 

Premarital love, or the opportunity for the couple to make 
their own choice, was not the order of the day. Marriages 
were arranged by the families, the principal thought being 
social prestige in the upper classes; among the lower classes, 
it was little more than barter or sale. 

Fatriarchy, or the Father-Family 207 

The marriage rite used among the highest and most aristo- 
cratic class was known as confarreatio, appropriate only to 
patricians and extremely elaborate in ceremonial and religious 
formality. Certain offices of the priesthood and that of vestal 
virgins were open only to children begotten of this type of 
marriage. One aspect of the Roman marriage contrasts strongly 
with that of the Greek, namely, in the former case the bridd 
veil is not white, but a flaming red. 

A middle-class ceremony was that known as coemptio, simi- 
lar to the preceding one in that it was a true marriage, but 
civil rather than religious in character, and involving a sym- 
bolic sale of the woman to the man. A coin of nominal value — 
but significantly of high importance as an evidence of woman’s 
status — ^was used for the purpose. 

There was a third form of marriage, or a common-law equiv- 
alent, termed usus, by means of which a woman was brought 
under the authority of her husband. This was without any 
special ceremony and indicated a relationship where a man 
and woman had lived in marital association for one year. This 
mode of marriage prevailed as a rule among the plebeians. It 
had legal status — Roman law was seemingly all-embracing and 
explicit, and appeared to cover everything. The wife’s consent 
must have been secured, and she must not have absented her- 
self from home three days. 

In contrast to these legitimate forms of marriage, there ex- 
isted a legalized type of concubinage under the name of 
matrimonium non justum, or a union of a citizen with a 
woman of inferior rank. This was a form of morganatic union, 
as the offspring of such association were not allowed to inherit 
property, nor were they considered as members of their father’s 

2o8 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

Woman’s inferior position is best illustrated with respect to 
the Roman view of adultery, a strictly double standard con- 
cept, characteristic of all patriarchal societies. If a wife com- 
mitted adultery— with its menace to the purity of the male 
lineage — the husband was free to take her life without inter- 
vention even of the family council. Cato, the Censor, summed 
up the early Roman attitude toward marital infidelity in the 
following words: 

“If you catch your wife in adultery, you would kill her with 
impunity without a trial; but if she were to catch you, she 
would not dare lay a finger upon you, and indeed she has no 

Under ancient Roman law a woman was perpetually a 
minor. She could not oy^ or transmit property, or enter into 
any business transaction. Even her children were not legally 
hers; she had no rights over them. 

The Paternal Power.— The absolute and unconditional 
power of the Roman father over his children was expressed in 
the Latin phrase, patria potestas. A peculiar characteristic of 
this paternal authority is that, in the case of sons, it continued 
until the father’s death, irrespective of their age or position, 
even after their marriage. Daughters passed out of the paternal 
power after marriage, to become subject to the husband, unless 
they were married without “manus”, in which case they con- 
tinued under the father’s authority. 

The son had no potestas over his own children until after 
his father’s death. Patria potestas was thus not merely the 
authority of the father over his own children, but that of the 
oldest paternal ancestor over all descendants in the male line 
— son’s children, son’s son’s children, and so on. 

Under early Roman law the father had an unlimited right 
to expose to death all infant daughters except the first-born. 

Patriarchy, or the Father-Family 209 

Sons and first-born daughters might also be exposed if they 
were deformed. The fact of the deformity was required to be 
attested by five of the nearest neighbors. 

Throughout the Republican period the father, as domestic 
magistrate, had the right to punish his children, even with 
death, after a trial at which the kinsmen were present. In the 
Imperial period, exposure of children was forbidden, and the 
right of paternal punishment was reduced to reasonable disci- 
plinary limits. 

It was also within the power of the father to sell the child. 
Sale into slavery was unusual, however. In the later Empire it 
was allowed only in the case of new-born children, and when 
the father was in extreme poverty. Even then he retained the 
right of ransom. 

A not uncommon practice was the pledging of the person of 
a child for the father’s debt. Another analogous custom was 
for the father to sell his son’s services for a number of years, 
although a so-called royal law forbade the sale of a married 
man. Another royal law prescribed that a son sold three times 
should be free from the father’s further authority. 

Under the rule of patria potestas in the early period, sons 
and daughters and their children had no property rights of 
their own. Whatever they acquired accrued to the head of the 
house. Later, in the Imperial period, the son and also the 
daughter secured property rights. 

Patria potestas was nullified not only by the death of the 
father, but also by his loss of liberty or citizenship. If he were 
captured and enslaved by foreign enemies, that condition only 
suspended his paternal authority, and if he escaped or was 
ransomed, it was revived. 

Paternal authority was also nullified under Roman law when 
a son became a flamen of Jupiter — one of the principal divini- 

310 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

ties of the pre-Christian era — or a daughter became a vestal 

“Ric3HT of the First Night”.— A lascivious practice among 
various peoples during the feudal period was the much-dis- 
cussed jus primae noctis, “right of first night”, or as the French 
called it, droit du seigneur, “right of the lord.” 

The feudal,lord had the patriarchal right to compel any man 
who had attained the eighteenth, and any girl who had at- 
tained the fourteenth, year to marry. He could prescribe to 
both men and women whom they were to marry, even in the 
case of widows and widowers. Early marriage of the serfs and 
many children were to the interest of the feudal lord, as this 
added to the number of his workers with resultant increase of 
his income and wealth. Moreover, it was an age without any 
conception of sanitation or hygiene; mortality rates — especially 
of infants— were very high, epidemics of plague and pestilence 
were wont to rage, and a high birth-rate was necessary even 
to assure a stationary population. 

The “right” of a lord to enjoy the sexual favors of his female 
serfs was generally acknowledged in most feudal areas. If his 
lands were too extensive or if the number of his vassals was too 
great for him to give personal attention to all his subjects, he 
could delegate his right to a representative, who might be his 
major-domo or his managing overseer. In many places, how- 
ever, the right was subject to waiver upon payment of a tax. 
The terms “bed tribute”, “virgin tax”, etc., had their origin in 
this way. 

Jacob Grimm, whose exhaustive works on the society of the 
Middle Ages are among the most authoritative extant, gives 
the following description relative to the custom of jus primae 
noctis: “The groom shall invite the manager of the estate to 
the wedding and he shall also invite the manager’s wife. The 

Patriarchy, or the Father-Family 2U 

manager shall bring a cartload of wood to the wedding, and 
the wife shall bring a quarter of a roasted pig. When the wed- 
ding is over, the groom, shall let the manager lie with his wife 
for the first night, or he shall redeem her with five shillings 
and six pence.” 

According to the record of the Swabian monastery, Adel- 
berg, in the year 1496, the serfs living in the community of 
Baertlingen could redeem the right if the groom gave a bag 
of salt and the bride gave i lb. 7 shillings in a dish “large 
enough that she might sit in it.” In other localities the brides 
could redeem the right by giving the feudal lord as much 
butter or cheese “as was the size of their seat.” 

Besides the feudal lands of continental Europe, the practice 
has been ascribed to the clan organizations of Scotland and 
Wales during the Middle Ages. In The Fair Maid of Perth, 
Sir Walter Scott relates: “The ancient laws of Scotland as- 
signed such a privilege to every feudal lord over his female 
vassals, though lack of spirit and love of money hath made 
many exchange it for gold.” The phrase “ancient laws” may 
have been used loosely by Scott instead of ancient custom, 
which would probably be a more accurate term. 

With the passing of the custom toward the end of feudalism, 
the right appears to have been exercised for a time symbolically 
by the laying of a leg in the bride’s bed. 

Passing of the Patriarchal Order. — ^The patriarchal system 
may be said to have had its origin among the pastoral peoples 
of southeastern Europe and southwestern Asia. It reached its 
turning point and decline with the passing of feudalism. Rem- 
nants remained, as is always the case with a bygone social 
order, and many of our fundamental laws and mores are patri- 
archal in their implications. But the framework and substance 
have gone. 

212 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

The patriarchy of the feudal period, of course, was not the 
patriarchy of the ancient Hebrews, Greeks and Romans. It was 
modified by time and circumstance, but it was essentially a 
patriarchal order in the character of father-right, paternal 
powers, subjugation of the female, masculine line of descent 
and inheritance. 

Feudalism, already on the decline, received its death warrant 
in the cataclysmic convulsions of the French Revolution and 
the Napoleonic wars. The rise of industry changed the way of 
life, left its impress on religion and morals, stimulated science 
and invention, diffused education, created great centers of 
urban population, all of which, of course, affected the status 
of the family and the customs of courtship and marriage. 


Multiple Marriage 

Polygamy. — ^The popular understanding of polygamy is the 
marriage of a man with two or more women, and for the sake 
of coAvenience the term has been so used from time to time 
in the previous chapters. It properly denotes, however, the 
marriage of either a man or a woman with more than one 

In the present chapter, which deals with multiple marriages 
of various kinds, the technically correct term of polygyny will 
be used to indicate plural marriage on the part of the man. 

The reverse situation — the marriage of one woman with two 
or more men is termed polyandry. 

There is a third form of multiple marriage or sexual rela- 
tionship, combining polgyny with polyandry, which is vari- 
ously termed group marriage, promiscuity or sexual com- 
munism, some features of which have already been described. 

Multiple marriage in some form is everywhere practiced 
among primitive peoples, by at least part of the population. 
Far from being regarded as a licentious custom, or as a mani^ 
festation of moral laxity or form of self-indulgence, or as 
evidencing a lack of consideration for the feelings of women, 
it is everywhere in primitive societies looked upon as a lauda- 
ble ideal and a great virtue. 

Even the outlawing of polygamy, or polygyny, in Europe 

214 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

came about at a later period than is generally suspected. Its 
prohibition was promulgated for the first time in any part of 
the world in the code of Justinian in the sixth century of the 
present era. It is true that the practice had fallen into decline 
in the most advanced countries of Europe before that time, 
but it was not legally or ecclesiastically proscribed. 

Polygyny. — Jn this form of plural marriage the double 
standard of morality almost invariably applies because it is 
usually a male-dominated relationship. There are some excep- 
tions in certain primitive societies, such as the American Indian 
tribes, in which women have held a position «f relative equality 
with, or even economic superiority to, the men. The situation 
generally, however, has been that when a husband had two, 
three or many wives, he Jooked upon them as his personal 
property, and felt that the moral standards which were im- 
posed upon women had nothing to do with men. 

In practically all polygynous societies, and some have en- 
joyed a high degree of cultural development, the women are 
carefully shielded and guarded from contact with men other 
than the husband. If in spite of these safeguards and precau- 
tions, the wife is discovered to be unfaithful to her husband, 
she is punished without mercy. Death, enslavement or banish- 
ment is the usual penalty. 

The husband, however, has no scruples about philandering 
on his own account. He may find it dangerous to trespass 
upon the harem of his neighbor, and therefore out of ex- 
pediency respect his neighbor’s sexual property. If prostitutes 
or unmarried or unguarded women are available to him, he 
may cohabit with them without qualm on his part, or without 
objection from his neighbors, who exercise the same privilege. 
Even the wives themselves may not be expected to object, 
because their training and experience have conditioned them 

Multiple Marriage 215 

to accept this situation as normal and proper — or at least 

The Biblical law clearly points to the existence of polygyny 
among the ancient Hebrews. Marriage with a brother’s widow 
was required when no male children survived. The living 
brother was not exempted from the duty of marrying his sister- 
in-law because he was already married. Thus, for many centur- 
ies polygyny was an accredited institution among the sons of 
Israel. And, of course, Solomon had his numerous wives and 
more numerous concubines. 

Monogamy as it evolved out of a patriarchal order of society 
has b*een traditionally founded upon the same double stand- 
ard, until the influence of woman coming into economic and 
political rights on her own account has tended to greater 
equalization of the moral code. On general principles an only 
wife is much more likely to exercise an influence over a man 
than would be the case under polygyny. 

As we have already seen, in classical antiquity when the 
position of the wife was generally an inferior one, true mo- 
nogamy among the upper classes was very rare. The concubine 
was often a sort of secondary wife, paradoxically holding a 
preferred position as intellectual companion to the husband. 
Moreover, her very legal inferiority resulted in special oppor- 
tunities to educate herself, which were denied to the wife. 

In group marriage and in polyandry, the position of the wife 
tends to be higher, because the economic situation is quite the 
reverse of that existing among polygynous peoples. The matri- 
archal system, as we have already seen, is normally associated 
with such forms of marriage or has a traditional heritage from 
such a background. 

Polygyny among peoples of some high degree of cultural 
development is now to be found mostly among the Orientals. 

2 i 6 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

Owing to the limited number of women that are at a man's 
disposal — for the ratio of the sexes is approximately equal — 
and to the expense of maintaining more than one wife, 
polygyny is at present practiced only by the privileged and 
propertied classes. 

Primitive Polygyny. — It has been pointed out that in the 
animal kingdom species are sometimes polygamous, some- 
times monogamous, but that in general a gregarious life, a 
life of considerable association, favors polygamy. Man is of 
course a sociable being, and in the primitive state polygamy in 
one form or another has been universal. 

Primitive life is physically hazardous, and although there is 
an approximate equilibrium in the birth ratio of the sexes, the 
conditions of savagery make prodigious demands upon the 
lives of the adult males. There are frequent wars, in which 
there is no place for captives ; taking captives for the purpose 
of slavery came at a later period. Among many tribes there are 
adventurous and dangerous undertakings to procure food or 
materials of value, hunting and fishing expeditions that often 
involve a high mortality rate. 

Notwithstanding a hardihood and natural invulnerability 
to many infections and to the shock of wounds that would be 
devastating to the more artificially conditioned civilized man, 
the natural hazards of savage life did take their toll, more so 
upon men than upon women, whose constitutional resistance 
is greater than man’s. Even the prevalence of female infanticide 
failed to equalize the sexual ratio, so the excess of women was 
sufficient to permit polygyny, at least among the more 
privileged members of the population. 

Polygyny may become restricted in savage society because a 
small number of the strongest and most feared men — the 
chiefs, the sorcerers, or the priests — so monopolize the availa- 

Multiple Marriage 217 

ble desirable women that there are not enough left over for 
the common man to marry several wives, if indeed he is able 
to marry at all. As an example, in Australia the older influential 
aborigines took possession of so many of the women of all 
ages that most of the younger men could not acquire a wife 
before the age of thirty. And thirty is a very advanced age for 
marrying in primitive society, where young men and women 
alike are considered eligible for marriage at about the age of 

The situation in these circumstances is ameliorated to a 
considerable extent by the fact that this enforced celibacy does 
not necessarily demand male continence. Among the primi- 
tives under discussion and those of similar low culture, the 
husbands are much more jealous of their other property rights 
than they are of their conjugal rights. They may therefore be 
persuaded by the inducement of a suitable present, to lend 
their wives to the less fortunate bachelors. As a matter of fact, 
the practice of lending wives under such advantageous circum- 
stances may be one of the incentives for establishing a monop- 
oly. It is an example of the law of supply and demand at work 
in a primitive society. 

Among the Melanesians of the Fiji Islands, the chiefs who 
lived in great state sometimes acquired several hundred 
women, of whom the greater number filled the position of 
servants to the master, and at the same time were concubines 
at the disposition of the warriors or of the guests. The titular 
wives whose children inherited were very few in number. 
They were acknowledged as daughters of the chief, and their 
situation, though less degraded than that of the concubines, 
was still very humble. 

We are told that not only did these royal princesses, so to 
speak, resign themselves without difficulty to polygyny, but 

2i8 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

they were subjected to a singular duty — that of rearing for 
their husband a chosen concubine. The procedure has been 
thus reported: The bride takes with her a young girl who is 
still a child, but who shows promise of beauty, and who has 
been carefully selected from the lower class of the people. It 
is a virjgin destined for her husband. She brings her up with 
the tenderest solicitude. When the girl is marriageable, the 
queen, on the appointed day, undresses her, washes her care- 
fully, and even pours perfumed oil on her hair, crowns her 
with flowers, and conducts her thus naked to her husband. 

Indeed, in those primitive societies which are masculine- 
dominated, the women are so thoroughly imbued with the 
fact of their own inferior position — in reality their status being 
as property rather than a^^persons — that they have no thought 
of rebelling against a condition of life which they have been 
trained to regard as normal and proper. Under these circum- 
stances the wife in polygynous communities not only does not 
resent the arrival of additional wives or concubines into the 
domestic menage, but often welcomes them as added work- 
ers to perform the hard labor of the household and its 

We are told that among the Zulus the wife first purchased 
strives and works with great effort to help her husband obtain 
sufficient means to acquire a second wife, as a helper, over 
whom she will have seniority and special privileges. The 
women cultivate the ground and attend to the primitive agri- 
culture which, with the preparation of the food, is part of the 
domestic work, so the labor is heavy and arduous. The hus- 
band seldom concerns himself with the agricultural labor of 
sowing, cultivating and harvesting performed by his wives, as 
long as it is sufficient to supply his food requirements. The 

Multiple Marriage 219 

men seldom do anything to the land but clear off the bush 
and timber, when that is required. 

As a consequence, the greater number of matured and 
elderly men of this tribe and other African aborigines similarly 
situated have two or three wives. This again leads to a scarcity 
of wives available for the younger men — as in the case of the 
Australians — ^and results in infant betrothals and the sale of 
child wives. Livingstone reported that the number of wives 
was the measure of a man’s wealth and social standing. 

In some primitive groups there appears to have been a 
prescribed wife for each man, or at least his choice was re- 
stricted to a very limited number. The prescribed mate was a 
status-wife, who alone held the position of a true wife. The 
men might also capture a woman from an alien tribe who 
would be a worker, or work-wife. She might in time win the 
man’s amorous interest, and thus become his love-wife, or 
its primitive equivalent. 

Among the Trobrianders, Malinowski reports that while 
monogamy is the general rule, polygyny is not only allowed 
to men of higher rank, but in some cases it is even expected 
of them. Sorcerers of renown and headsmen of high rank are 
obliged to have a number of wives by virtue of their position. 
The chief or headman, in order to fulfil the obligations of 
his station, must possess wealth, and according to native social 
conditions this is possible only through plurality of wives. 

The acquisition of the wives is a matter of political arrange- 
ment, rather than personal choice, or is so after his first 
marriage. From each sub-clan or village the chief takes a wife, 
who may be said to be the perpetual wifely link with the 
group in question, because, upon her death, another wife, her 
substitute, is immediately wed to him from the same village 
or sub-clan. All the male members of the bride’s sub-clan con- 

220 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

tribute their share to her dowry upon her marriage to the 

The author relates as an example, the instance of a repre- 
sentative chief who began his sexual life in the ordinary way 
of the tribe, passing through the stages of complete freedom, 
and finally made a permanent attachment. His selection was 
a very presentable yovmg woman of the tribe, who in later 
years possessed “charm, dignity and simple honesty.” Five 
children resulted from the union. This wife remained his 
favorite; all the circumstances indicating it was a marriage of 
love and real companionship. • 

Even before his accession, however, the chief acquired other 
wives, each from one of the communities or sub-clans whose 
obligation it was to make this contribution to his domestic 
circle. Furthermore, upon the decease of his predecessor, this 
chief inherited the late chief’s widows, who automatically and 
at once became his wives, and their children became members 
of his household. The majority of these widows were fairly 
old, some having passed through the hands of three husbands. 
The chief was not under obligation to cohabit with the in- 
herited wives, but it was his privilege and right to do so if 
he wished. 

Polygyny in Societies Favorable to Woman. — ^The fore- 
going examples of primitive polygyny are concerned primarily 
with its practice in societies where women are held in inferior 
position. Polygyny, however, was also widely practiced by the 
North American Indians, among whom women held a favora- 
ble and often a dominant position in the political and eco- 
nomic life of the tribe. 

The reason for the practice was doubtless the numerical 
preponderance of women, due to heavy loss of adult males in 
wars, and from the hazards of hunting and othei pursuits of 

Multiple Marriage 221 

primitive life. The morality of savage society is invariably 
governed by practical considerations and the necessities arising 
therefrom. Celibacy has no place in primitive life — except as 
a religious or ceremonial custom — and if there is a preponder- 
ance of females, polygyny is practiced. If some unusual condi- 
tions should bring about a preponderance of men, polyandry 
then tends to become a factor in the marital relationship. 

Among the Omaha tribe, the man never took a second wife 
without the consent of the first. Often, indeed, the initiative 
came from her. She might say to him: “Marry the daughter of 
my brother. She and I are of the same flesh.” 

To a large extent, polygyny had among many tribes of 
Indians an incestuous tinge. The wives of the same man were 
often relatives, habitually sisters, as we shall presently see. 

Sometimes a man took as wives an aunt and niece of his 
first wife. Among the Californian aborigines a man not only 
married the sisters, but also their widowed mother. Among 
the Columbians every wife had her separate habitation, or at 
least her special fireside. Sometimes there was a chief wife 
having authority over all other wives. 

SoRORATE — The Custom of Marrying Sisters. — ^Among 
many primitives it is the custom to marry off the eldest daugh- 
ter of the family first, usually soon after puberty. Among 
forty or more of the North American Indian tribes, when a 
man married the eldest daughter of the family, he acquired by 
express privilege and right all her sisters as wives as soon as 
they reached a marriageable age. 

This custom while widely practiced, however, was not 
obligatory. The man might waive his right in this respect, but 
if he insisted, his superior claim would be recognized by her 
clan. If the husband did not wish, or could not afford, to 
exercise his claim upon his wife’s sisters, he allowed them to 

222 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

marry other men, but in order to do so his consent was neces- 
sary. When a bride-price was due, it was sometimes paid to 
him and not to the girl’s relatives. 

Among the principal tribes practicing this custom were the 
Omahas, the Cheyennes, the Crees, the Osages, the Blackfeet, 
the Crows, the Ojibwas, the Pawnees, the Spokans of Colum- 
bia, the Chawanons of Louisiana, and many others of lesser 

Reports of the domestic life of these Indian families who 
practiced the sororate indicate it was an unusually harmonious 
domestic arrangement. The men were said to prefer to marry 
sisters for the very purpose of securing domestic peace. In 
some tribes it was claimed that the practice brought the hus- 
band “good luck.” Thc-fact that it tended to increase domestic 
felicity is in itself a piece of good luck, and so the abstract 
principle could well arise from this concrete result. 

Sororal polygyny was also popular among the women be- 
cause they realized that children bereft of their own mother 
would come imder the care of her close kindred, and not fall 
into the hands of a woman of alien origin. 

The acquiring of marital rights by a husband over a wife’s 
sisters is a widespread principle in primitive societies gen- 
erally. Briffault states that in Queensland, Australia, among 
the natives on the Pennefeather and Tully Rivers, a man is 
understood to have the same sexual rights over his wife’s sis- 
ters as over his wife, whether they happen to be married or 
not. In Southeast Australia, when a man secures a wife from 
another tribe through elopement, her parents, after their anger 
has blown over and the matter has been amicably settled, turn 
over her sisters also to their son-in-law. 

These practices seem to indicate that the sororate is a rem- 
nant of group marriage or a general form of clan promiscuity, 

Multiple Marriage 223 

giving the man sexual claim upon all the women of the group 
with which his own group has entered into a marriage agree- 
ment. Thus the sororate is a gradual breaking away from gross 
promiscuity— an important step in the evolution of marriage— 
and the marital alliance is generally restricted to the several 
sisters of a family. 

Among the South American Araucanians when a man is 
able to obtain several sisters together as wives, he prefers it 
to marrying wopaen who are not related to one another, be- 
cause “this accords with their laws.” The men of the Amazon 
and Rio Negro tribes also commonly married all the sisters of 
a family. 

The custom is very prevalent throughout Africa, especially 
among the more primitive tribes and those whose social or- 
ganization has been subject to the least modification in the 
contacts with civilization. Among the Bushmen a man usually 
marries several sisters or female cousins — that is, tribal sisters. 
The Kaffirs and Zulus, as well as the natives of Portuguese East 
Africa and Mozambique, also follow the practice. 

If a man of the Hereto tribe of western South Africa took a 
fancy to a younger sister and decided to marry her, he could 
not do so without also marrying her elder sister. Among the 
Basoga of East Africa, when the bride leaves with the groom 
for his home, they are accompanied by the bride’s sister, who 
joins the household as a secondary wife. 

The sororate has a long tradition among the primitives of 
Siberia and western Mongolia. Genghis Khan married two 
sisters, and the precedent was followed as an honored example 
by his warriors and khans. In ancient China and Japan, too, it 
was a recognized practice. The most common form of polyg- 
yny among the Malays of the Patani States was the simultane- 
ous marriage with several sisters. 

224 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

There is an analogy between the levirate, which obligated a 
man to marry his deceased brother’s widow — described in a 
previous chapter — and the sororate, which demands or permits 
the marriage of a man with all of his wife’s sisters. Both had 
their origin in primordial family life when sexual customs 
were at best little above a promiscuous level. As has been 
already stated, in primitive life and economy there is no place 
for the unattached female. The fulfilment of her biological 
destiny is inevitably taken for granted. She is expected to mate 
or fit into the sexual pattern prevailing in the community as 
soon as she reaches pubescence. This principle may be dig- 
nified by the term of “natural law”, as it is universal in the 
primitive world. 

This is the explanation of promiscuity, whether unlimited or 
restricted, of group marriage, of sexual communism as prac- 
ticed by certain primitives; of hetairism, of the consanguineous 
form of marriage as practiced by the Iroquois and other Ameri- 
can Indians, of so-called temple prostitution that came along 
at a later period, and of other plural marital practices. 

Celibacy and chastity after puberty are concepts of a fairly 
high degree of civilization, although it may be a savage or a 
barbarous civilization. Then they are invariably associated 
with a special class of religious devotees, and have no part in 
the life of tribal womanhood in general. 

Where the levirate and sororate prevail they are usually 
imperative customs and obligations. Whether the society be 
matriarchal or patriarchal in principle, the woman has no 
alternative but to conform to the pattern that has been devised 
to assure her of the fulfilment of her biological function. This 
is even more true of matriarchal than of patriarchal societies, 
as the former have a more positive instinctive feeling of the 
necessity of this functional complement of woman’s life. 

Multiple Marriage 225 

Restrictions Regarding Cousin-Marriages. — Civilized so- 
ciety has in many cases, but not always, imposed restrictions on 
the marriage of first cousins under the general prohibition o£ 
incestuous marriages. 

Primitive peoples have their ban on cousin-marriages, but 
the prohibition is not uniform according to the degree of 
relationship. Where cousin-marriage is permissible in these 
societies, it is nearly always limited to those relations known 
as cross-cousins, whereas parallel or identical cousins are pre- 
vented from marrying on account of the incest taboo. 

The rppective children of brothers are parallel or identical 
cousins; as are the children of sisters. On the other hand, the 
respective children of a brother and sister are cross-cousins. 

Some primitive tribes not only permit cross-cousin marriage, 
but prescribe it wherever possible. The Toda, the Vedda and 
other peoples of Southern Asia, and the Fijians among other 
Melanesians, follow this practice. The aborigines of the North 
American Pacific coast region, some South American Indians, 
and a number of South and East African tribes adhere to the 
custom. While far from universal, it has nevertheless been 
observed in every grand division of peoples throughout the 
world. The practice is of course endogamous and leads to a 
high degree of inbreeding, but other factors may serve to bring 
new blood into the tribe. 

If a man has no cross-cousins — if his mother has no brother, 
or having one, he has no daughters — a substitute is then made 
of some more remote relative reckoned on cross-kin lines. 

One effect of this marital procedure is that when a man 
weds the daughter of his mother’s brother, or of his father’s 
sister, a maternal uncle will normally be his father-in-law, or a 
paternal aunt his mother-in-law. As a consequence, in many 
tribes practicing this form of marriage the men have a single 

226 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

term to designate mother’s brother and father-in-law. They 
likewise have another single word to indicate father’s sister 
and mother-in-law. 

Sexual Communism. — Sexual promiscuity in the form of 
what may be designated as “group marriage” has been touched 
upon in a previous chapter. This classification has been used 
to cover various forms of the group type of marriage, which 
may vary from absolute promiscuity, without incestuous re- 
strictions of any kind, to others that have quite definite 

As the term “marriage” scarcely applies to some of the con- 
ditions labeled group marriage, even under Westermarck’s 
broad generalization. Dr. Rivers and other anthropologists 
have used as a substitute the term sexual communism as a 
more appropriate designation. 

It has been pointed out that extensive sexual communism 
may coexist side by side with individual marriage. That is, one 
portion of the community may practice the former system, and 
the remainder of the community the latter. 

As an example of the two types of sexual life coexisting in a 
given locality, we may mention the Bororo of Brazil. The older 
men are regularly married and live in their family huts. The 
bachelors occupy a special dwelling, where they jointly possess 
such girls as they capture or purchase from the village, and 
for whom they pay to their mistresses, brothers or maternal 

Promiscuous practices of this kind among the Bororo, the 
Masai and others, which are openly sanctioned in the com- 
munities, do not conflict with the institution of individual 
marriage, which is the normal routine of life after the period 
of youthful profligacy. In brief, there is one system for the 
young, and another for the older members of the social group. 

Multiple Marriage 227 

Among the Chukchee, reported by Bogoras, on the other 
hand, sexual communism is a general practice on the part of 
practically all families. There is, however, a certain method of 
selection which again shows how logically the primitive mind 
works according to its own lights. 

Second or third cousins, or unrelated men desirous of enter- 
ing into the arrangement, will form a group exercising marital 
rights over all the wives of the men concerned. It is not cus- 
tomary for brothers to enter into these agreements; nor are 
bachelors usually admitted into the group because it is based 
primarily on reciprocity. The union may include as many as 
ten couples. 

The Chukchee “companions in wives” do not dwell to- 
gether with their mates in a common household. They have 
their separate camps and the apparent object of the arrange- 
ment is to provide the men in their sojourns with temporary 
bed-companions. In actual practice, therefore, the Chukchee 
has but limited opportunity to exercise his potential rights 
under the mutual agreement. 

The observer reports that the inmates of one and the same 
camp are seldom willing to enter into a group-marriage, the 
reason obviously being that the reciprocal use of wives, which 
in this form of marital collectivism is practiced rather seldom, 
is liable to degenerate into complete promiscuity should the 
members of the group live too close together. 

It will be observed that this type of marital arrangement is 
not by any means unrestricted sexual license, but is governed 
by very definite regulations and limitations. Its most likely 
origin is in the old custom of reciprocity in the hospitality of 
wives, which is commonplace in many primitive societies. 

The Dieri tribe of Australia has a very different form of 
community of wives, but theirs is likewise governed hy defi- 

228 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

nitely formulated rules from which they do not appear to 
digress. Under this arrangement the man may marry his 
mother’s mother’s brother’s daughter’s daughter, or his 
mother’s father’s sister’s daughter’s daughter. 

These relationships seem almost too involved to be grasped 
by the primitive mind. However, the members of the tribe are 
very much concerned about the orthodoxy of following these 
lines of kinship. When a boy and a girl stand to each other in 
one of these relationships they are considered eligible for 
future marriage, and a childhood betrothal may be arranged 
by their mothers and maternal uncles. It will be seen that this 
tribe follows the principle of mother-right, so common among 
very primitive peoples. Normally there will be an exchange of 
girls by the two contracting parties, so that in each family a 
boy is provided with a mate. 

A peculiarity of this system is that no woman is ever the 
betrothed wife of more than one man. After the marriage is 
consummated, however, the wife is free to become the con- 
cubine of several other men, married or single — but they must 
stand to each other in the orthodox relationship as already 

As the practice works out, brothers who have married sisters 
may share their wives, and a widower in exchange for gifts 
takes his brother’s wife for his concubine. Furthermore, a 
visitor of the proper relationship may be offered his host’s wife 
as a temporary concubine. Aside from these examples, con- 
cubines are assigned through formal allotment by the council 
of elders, which confers rights of concubinage on individuals 
who are potential spouses. Only men of distinction, however, 
are likely to have a number of concubines. The common tribes- 
man is advised by the dominant ciders to confine himself to 


Midtiple Marriage 229 

All of the instances cited above, which are the most rep- 
resentative of so-called group marriage, or sexual co mmunism, 
as it has been practiced by primitive peoples in modern times, 
arc by no means evidence of unrestrained sexual licentiousness. 
All of them have carefully defined, well-formulated codes, 
within the restrictions of which the members of the organiza- 
tions are expected to conduct themselves. 

It is the usual custom for each member of the group to have 
his own wife, and the wife her own husband, but a right exists 
under certain conditions, and subject to certain restrictions, 
for the interchange of women for cohabitation. This privilege 
of sexual intercourse, actually a survival of reciprocal hospital- 
ity, cannot properly be called “group marriage”, and even the 
term “sexual communism” is really a misnomer. While their 
concept of conjugal fidelity is different from ours, their code 
is as definite in its own way as that applying to marriage in 
civilized societies. 

What happened in the relative promiscuity that probably 
existed in the infancy of the human race is of course not 
known. It is probable that the formulated codes associated 
with these vestiges of sexual communism, as well as the 
evidences of paired mating in the animal world — indicating a 
“natural” tendency to selective mating — have influenced 
Westermarck’s conclusion that there never existed unre- 
strained sexual promiscuity in the human race. 

Polyandry. — ^The marital arrangement whereby one woman 
has two or more husbands, termed polyandry, is much rarer 
than polygyny. It may be remarked that physiologically, it is 
more natural that a woman should have a plurality of hus- 
bands than that she should be one of a number of wives. 

The usual cause ascribed to polyandry is the chronic scarcity 
of women in a given community. It has been found to arise 

230 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

when the males of one race immigrate to a country which is 
racially different. The few women who accompany them must 
be divided among a larger number of men. This seems a 
logical reason to account for polyandry, but Briffault says there 
are objections to the categorical acceptance of this explanation, 
because of the conspicuous exceptions to the rule. In Tibet, 
for instance, one of the principal polyandrous countries, there 
is no numerical disproportion between the sexes. As polyandry 
has been practiced in Tibet from the earliest known times, we 
may attribute it to the survival of a very ancient custom that 
has not been obliterated by contact wkh antagonistic ideolo- 

Among some primitive peoples whose activities require the 
men to be much a^ay from home, polyandry is said to be 
necessary so that the wife will always have a protector with 
her. Thus the Mongoloids of the Himalayan Mountains sanc- 
tioned the marrying of one woman to four brothers. One of 
the brothers always remained at home while the other three 
were at a distance, serving in the army, taking care of roving 
flocks or attending to matters of trade. 

While sporadic instances of polyandry have been found in 
various parts of the world, the great centers practicing this 
form of marital relationship have been Asia, especially Tibet, 
parts of India and Ceylon. A number of primitive tribes of 
India, nearly always addicted to female infanticide, have prac- 
ticed polyandry. Female infanticide, indeed, has been given as 
an important factor accounting for the scarcity of women and 
leading to this institution. 

Fraternal polyandry — a woman becoming the wife of several 
brothers — seems to be the most prevalent form of this marital 
arrangement, but it is not always so restricted. 

Multiple Marriage 231 

Among the Todas when a man marries a girl she becomes 
on that accoimt the recognized wife of all his brothers, and 
inversely these become the husbands of all the sisters of the 
wife. This is really an instance of polygynous polyandry. The 
first offspring of these marriages is attributed to the eldest 
brother, the second to the next brother, and so on. 

Polyandry flourished in Ceylon up to very recent times, espe- 
cially in the interior, and probably still is practiced to some 
extent. It has disappeared from the coastal regions because of 
the opposition of Europeans who are influential in the com- 
mercial life in those areas. 

This'form of marital union, in contrast to polygyny, does not 
seem to last in communities that have contact with civilization. 
Polyandrous marriage institutions have survived only among 
populations in isolated countries, of which Tibet is perhaps 
the best example. 

Among the Nayars or Nairs of Cochin, Malabar and Travan- 
core, polyandrous unions of a different, non-fraternal type pre- 
vail. According to the Nayar custom, every girl, before she 
attains puberty, goes through a marriage ceremony the 
essential feature of which is the placing around the neck of 
the bride a conjugal collar by the nominal husband. The mar- 
riage is consummated, the provisional husband receives the 
customary fee and departs, retaining no conjugal rights over 
the girl, who remains with her family. 

Now duly married, the Nayar girl might take for husband 
whomever she likes, except the provisional husband of the 
marriage ceremony. The number of her husbands varies from 
four to twelve. Each of them is first presented to her either by 
her mother or by a maternal uncle. 

These husbands remain a very short time, usually only a 

232 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

few days, when they are free to participate in further conjugal 
endeavors of this polyandrous society. This, of course, in- 
troduces the polygynous element into the marriage system, 
which makes it plural on both sides. 

The Nayar husbands generally are neither brothers nor rela- 
tives of other degree. Unions outside the caste, however, are 
the only ones reputed immoral. These are considered adulter- 

There are certain marital responsibilities and duties that 
accompany the rights and privileges. The several husbands are 
in honor bound to maintain the common wife. One undertakes 
to furnish the clothes, another to supply the rice, and so' forth. 
Under these conditions each may in turn enjoy the conjugal 
relationship, and in order not to be disturbed in the exercise of 
his rights, it sufEces theTiusband on duty to hang on the door 
of the house and on his wife’s door his shield and his sword 
or knife. 

In addition to the two types of polyandry — ^fraternal and 
non-fratemal, of which examples have been given, there arc 
also characteristic kinds representative of the two orders of 
society — matriarchy and patriarchy. 

In the matriarchal order the girl or woman does not quit hei 
family or her gens. Sometimes she even is permitted the right 
of choosing her husbands, or this may devolve upon the 
mother or maternal uncle. The husbands may, or may not, be 
related to each other according to the mores of the people in 
question. However, the wife is scarcely dependent upon the 
husbands, since she remains with her own relations, works 
with them and bears children for them. 

On the contrary, under patriarchal polyandry, the woman, 
captured or purchased, is almost entirely uprooted from her 
original environment. She leaves her maternal protectors to 

Multiple Marriage 233 

go and live with her husbands, to whom she belongs in the 
sense of a property relationship, and who demand strict con- 
jugal fidelity, imless they authorize the exceptions as hosts. 

Concubinage. — Concubinage may be described as a link be- 
tween free sexual promiscuity and marriage. It represents an 
evolutionary step between prostitution and the monogamic 
union, although the institution of concubinage has largely 
flourished in polygynous societies. 

Legal concubinage is indeed a sort of free marriage, sanc- 
tioned by custom and recognized by law, co-existing by the 
side of the formal marriage. It was at first a blending of polyg- 
yny with monogamy, and in the refinement and evolution of 
the relations between the sexes it ended by itself becoming 
monogamic in ancient Rome. 

Roman concubinage was a free union between a man and 
a woman not wishing, or not being able, to marry. It was law- 
ful to have as a concubine a woman with whom marriage was 
forbidden — an adulteress, an actress, a woman of questionable 
past, or a freed slave. Its monogamic character is shown by the 
fact that the Roman concubinate was, to all intents and pur- 
poses, a marriage of inferior status. A married man could not 
take a concubine; a bachelor could not have more than one at 
a time. 

In its primitive phase, concubinage was simply the conjugal 
appropriation of slaves, especially of women captured from 
vanquished enemies. They were part of the spoils of victory. 
Moses authorized this practice, as set forth in Deuteronomy. 
It was an habitual custom among the Arabs, as it was among 
all nomadic herdsmen and militant tribesmen. 

The Homeric warriors were given to the practice, as in- 
dicated in various passages of the Iliad and the Odyssey. In 
the former epic narrative, when Chryses comes to offer Aga- 

234 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

memnon a rich ransom for his daughter, the mighty king 
callously replies: “I will not set your daughter free; old age 
shall find her in my dwelling at Argos, far from her native 
land, weaving linen and sharing my bed. Go, then, and pro- 
voke me not.” 

In the Odyssey, when Ulysses, unnoticed, enters his own 
house, and pbserves his female slaves making merry as they 
play with the suitors, his emotion is not merely that of an 
affronted proprietor, but that of a jealous man whose harem 
has been transgressed. His first impulse is to kill these women 
who have dared trifle with his honor, which he later does, and 
he hears “his heart cry out in his bosom, as a bitch, turning 
around her young ones, barks at a stranger and tries to bite 

The canon regulating Christian marriage finally abolished 
concubinage as a legal institution, but like all established cus- 
toms it continued to live on long after its ecclesiastical pro- 

Study of the sexual practices of mankind shows that con- 
cubinage in some form has flourished among all races, in all 
periods, and it still thrives under other names in our own 
time alongside of legal marriage. The presence in modern 
society of the mistress, the “kept woman”, even the cultured 
coimterpart of the classical Greek courtesan, are matters of 
common knowledge. 

The Harem. — ^The very name of harem — ^meaning that 
which is sacred, set apart, forbidden — indicates its original 
religious character. From our Western lights, we are apt to 
look upon the harem as an institution degrading and humiliat- 
ing to women, but such is neither the purpose nor the effect 
from the Mohammedan point of view. It is part of the whole 
Islamic concept of the relations between the sexes. 

Multiple Marriage 235 

Probably the most objectionable features of the harem, from 
the social and ethical standpoint, are the idleness and vacuity 
of the life of the inmates and, in the royal households, the 
employment of eunuchs as supervisors and attendants. 

The Koran enjoins that women shall be discreet in their 
association with the opposite sex, and forbids them to expose 
face or person except to a husband, father, son or certain in- 
timate male relatives. The setting apart of a special apartment 
for women in the house is but one of these precautions, and 
undoubtedly antedates the time of Mohammed, as it is a 
deeply rooted Oriental idea, much older than the rise of Islam. 
The same thought is implicit in the gynacontis of classical 

While within the household the social intercourse between 
husband and wife is quite free, the wife or the wives of a man, 
attended by servants, usually female, lead generally isolated 
lives. The women visit one another and spend most of their 
time in each other’s apartments. Restrictions of various kinds 
are imposed on them when they leave these apartments. When 
appearing on the streets they must be veiled, and are generally 
accompanied by a male servant. 

The harem is not necessarily a polygynous institution, for 
although a Mohammedan has by law of the Koran the right 
to take four wives, there are comparatively few householders 
who are able to afford this luxury. One wife, or a wife and a 
concubine, is the rule. It is mostly in the case of persons 
occupying a high ofiScial position that several wives are 
gathered under one roof. 

It is an unwritten law that a Sultan has the right to seven 
wives and an indefinite number of concubines. The rather 
embellished stories of extensive harems maintained by the 
former rulers of Turkey are conceded to have been much 

236 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

exaggerated, and were due to a confusion between actual wives 
(or concubines) and female attendants and slaves, of which 
there were, of course, large numbers in a royal household. 

The position of “chief’ wife, who takes rank above the 
others, is carefully preserved under Mohammedan custom. If 
a man has several wives, they may prevail upon the husband 
to furnish each with a separate apartment, consisting of at 
least a bedchamber and kitchen. Within the harem the woman 
reigns supreme. There she entertains her female friends and, 
attended by servants, spends her days with her children. From 
the Western point of view, it must be an existence of great 
boredom and monotony, but as it is the only life these viromcn 
know, it doubtless seems natural and normal to them. 

Most of the traditional accounts of intrigue, cruelty, crime 
and immorality that have colored the stories descriptive of 
harem life in the past are concerned with the royal households, 
the voluptuous life of the numerous inmates, the vagaries of 
the cimuchs, and sometimes the gruesome methods by which 
their eunuchism was effected. 

There are both white and black eunuchs employed to guard 
the more pretentious harems. The duties of the white eunuchs 
are usually confined to the outer gates and entrances; they are 
never permitted to see the women of the harem. The black 
eimuchs wait upon the women directly. Some of the women 
in the royal household may have several dozen black eunuchs 
each at their command. 

The emasculation of the eunuch, of course, was done as a 
precaution to make him a safe guard of the harem, from the 
husband’s standpoint. The Oriental eunuch was primarily a 
chamberlain— the guardian of the bedchamber. In the house- 
holds of the Sultans and other Mohammedan rulers, eunuchs 
sometimes gained prominent positions and acquired great in- 

Multiple Marriage 337 

fluence in the court. Due to this tendency, the term eunuch 
came to be applied in Egypt to any court ofiBccr. 

There is a common belief that because of their mutilation 
eunuchs are effeminae, lacking in physical strength and vigor, 
and of cowardly spirit. The general run of eunuchs may sug- 
gest these traits. If so, there certainly have been striking excep- 
tions, as there are instances of eunuchs who have been strong 
characters, able administrators and loyal supporters of the 
regime. Narses, one of Justinian’s noted generals, was a 


Marriage by Capture 

Taking Wife by Force. — ^There are races still extant among 
whom marriage by capture frequently occurs. The practice has 
taken place in every part of the world and in all epochs. It is 
the natural accompaniment of primitive warfare and pillage, 
and with some tribes became the principal object of such 

At this late date, however, it is impossible to say that in 
primitive society the capture of women has ever been the 
usual mode of procuring a wife, as suggested by some author- 
ities, notably McLennan. But we do know that apparent rem- 
nants of the practice and symbolic or ceremonial capture are 
still an important part of the marriage rites among peoples all 
over the world. 

Some writers suggest that the rites in question had their 
origin in the attempt to ward off the “evil eye” — a superstition 
that for untold centuries plagued the mind of man; also, that 
they arc indicative of the modesty of the bride. Both of the 
latter factors are elements that have left their impress on cus- 
toms governing the marriage ceremony, but there is no mis- 
taking the evidence that the primitive usage of forcible nup- 
tials likewise left its mark in the evolution of marriage. 

The essential qualities of marriage by capture are taking the 
woman by force without her own consent and without the 


Marriage by Capture 239 

consent of her kindred. The violent seizure and marrying of a 
woman was legal in England until the reign of Henry VII, 
when it was made a crime to abduct an heiress. A thirteenth- 
century petition in the Rolls of Parliament declares that heir- 
esses in every part of the kingdom were, by guile or force, 
brought in the power of designing men. The capture of heir- 
esses for the purpose of marrying them is recorded in Ireland 
as late as the eighteenth century. 

That the practice was of great antiquity in Ireland is indi- 
cated by an old poem of that country, Duan Gircanash, which 
makes reference to three hundred women being carried off 
into enforced marriage by the Pict;^ from the Gaels. One of 
the verses narrates: 

Cruithne, son of Cuig, took their women from them — 

It is directly stated — 

Except Tea, wife of Hermion, 

Son of Miledh. 

Finding themselves thus deprived of their women, the Gaels 
finally made an alliance with the aboriginal tribes of Ireland, 
as we are told in the following quatrain: 

There were no charming, noble wives 
For their young men; 

Their women having been stolen, they made alliance 
With the Tuatha Dea. 

In a previous chapter reference was made to practices in 
medieval Italy which were based on the seizure of young 
women of means for marriage. Armed retainers and guards 
were employed by the wealthy families to protect their daugh- 
ters from being abducted into marriage in this way. 

Chrestien de Troyes, describing the social customs of 
medieval France, states that if a damsel were accompanied by 

240 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

a knight, it was the privilege of any other knight who might 
be attracted by the lady’s charms, to give combat to the escort. 
If successful in winning the lady by arms, he might do his 
will with her, and no shame or blame whatsoever would be 
held to attach to him. 

Marriage by capture occurred among the Southern Slavs 
down to the beginning of the nineteenth century. In the 
Albanian mountains it persisted down to very recent times. 
Other wild, free-living mountaineer peoples have likewise 
preyed upon the women of the more passive plainsmen within 
modern times. 

The instance of taking women by force in connection with 
wars, and inducting them into marriage or concubinage, was a 
widespread practice of great antiquity; likewise when, owing 
to the scarcity of wolhen in a given area, it has been difiScult 
or inconvenient to obtain wives in the ordinary manner. 

Massiage by Rape. — ^As violence is inherent in the practices 
of so many savage and barbarous tribes, the rape of women of 
alien peoples is to them a natural and simple occurrence. Its 
incidence as an accompaniment of capture and marriage or 
concubinage is a sequel taken for granted. 

The story of the rape of the Sabines has come down in the 
legends of the Romans as a classic example of the traditionally 
ancient method of obtaining wives. 

In the Soo^ of Judges, xx-xxi, there is the detailed narrative 
of how the tribe of Benjamin procured wives for themselves 
by massacring the inhabitants of Jabez-Gilead, including 
“every woman that hath lain by man”, and capturing four 
hundred virgins. 

Even this raid “sufliced them not”, so the Benjaminites again 
set forth and, emulating the rape of the Sabines, each man 
seized and carried off one of the daughters of Shiloh to be 

Marriage hy Capture 241 

his wife on an occasion when the women gathered for a 
festival in the vineyards near Bethel. 

Other Biblical stories of like character are to be found in 
Numbers xxxi, 7-9, wherein we are told of the defeat of the 
Midianites by the Israelites, and the carrying off of all the 
cattle, children and women. Deuteronomy xxi also describes 
the Israelites taking as captives the women of the vanquished 
enemy, and bringing home to wive those who were beautiful 
and desirable. If the Israelite husband found “no delight in 
her,” then he “shalt let her go whither she will.” 

The Australian aborigines have been given to the practice 
of violence and rape in connection with the acquisition of 
their women. The native who desires to carry off a woman 
belonging to another tribe prowls around the outskirts of the 
camp. If he happens to discover a woman without a pro- 
tector he rushes on her, stuns her with a blow of his club, 
seizes her by her thick hair, and drags her thus into the neigh- 
boring wood. When she has recovered her senses, he forces 
her to follow him into his home community, where he violates 
her in the presence of his people. 

Marriage by rape is symbolized in the nuptial rites of some 
aboriginal tribes. Among the Araunanians of southern Chile, 
while the prospective bridegroom’s friends bargain with the 
girl’s father, the groom himself slinks about the house and 
tries to catch the girl. As soon as he has grasped her he lifts 
her on his horse and carries her away toward the forest. The 
people of the neighborhood raise a loud clamor and try to 
prevent the flight. As soon as the man has reached the shelter 
of the forest, however, the woman is considered to be his 
wife. This holds true, even if the abduction be perpetrated 
against the parents’ will. 

A similar practice prevails among the Mosquito Indians. 

242 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

After the arrangements for a wedding have been made and 
the bride-price paid, the bridegroom carries off the bride and 
is followed by the women kinfolk who stage a mock battle 
and pretend to rescue her. The couple finally escape and “go 
in hiding,” the primitive counterpart of our honeymoon. 

Among the Australians, a favorite custom was for two men 
to unite tp commit a rape-raid upon an alien tribe. The men 
stole noiselessly into the camp at night; one of them wound 
round his barbed spear the hair of a sleeping woman, the 
other pointed his spear at her bosom. Awakened, she dared 
not cry out. The captors took her off, bound her to a tree, and 
then returned in the same manner to make a second capture, 
after which they returned in triumph to their own people. 

The captives rarely revolted, for this method of capture was 
traditional in the lives of these people. From infancy, the girls 
became familiarized with the fate that awaited them, and the 
simulation of the rape was one of the games of the Australian 
native children. 

The life of an attractive Australian girl was marked by a 
series of plots to carry her off, and often of successive rapes, 
which forced her to pass from hand to hand. In the process 
she was subjected to wounds received in the resultant con- 
flicts, and also frequently to bad treatment inflicted by the 
women of the strange tribe into which she was introduced. 
Sometimes she was taken far away from the place of her birth, 
even himdreds of miles. 

In these instances it was the duty of the tribe to which the 
ravaged woman belonged, to avenge her. As tribal obligations 
are the primitive equivalent to moral duties, skirmishes or 
battles frequently followed. More often, to escape serious 
damage for an offense to which both sides were addicted, the 
tribes held a meeting, and then the ravisher submitted to a 

Marriage by Capture 243 

symbolic retaliation or punishment agreed upon beforehand. 

Armed with a shield of bark, he faced at about forty yards 
a group of ten warriors belonging to the offended tribe. Each 
of these threw two or three darts at him, which were almost 
always dodged or parried. The offense was thereby expunged, 
and peace re-established. 

The same custom prevailed among the Papuans of New 
Guinea and the Fiji Islanders. The men carried off and vio- 
lated unaccompanied women, and afterward arranged with 
the aggrieved tribe regarding compensation. Real or simu- 
lated rape was general, and even had an element of glory 
attached to it. A particular divinity presided over this rite. 
The ravished woman either fled to a protector or resigned her- 
self, whereupon a feast tendered to the parents concluded 
the affair. 

Marriage through force represents one of the great stages 
through which this institution has passed in its evolutionary 
development. Some authorities have referred to it as a form of 
“glorified rape,” but it was to all intents and purposes a form 
of marriage, as usual and regular in its time and place as our 
own conventional marriage is to us. 

Significantly, none of the North American Indian tribes 
ever made a practice of obtaining wives by capture, and in 
that respect were exceptional among all known primitive 
races. On the other hand, the practice was common among 
the South American and especially the Caribbean Indians of 
the West Indies. The strong endogamous habits of the North 
American aborigines discouraged marrying outside the tribe 
under any circumstances. 

While females of the enemy were frequently taken prisoners 
by the more warlike tribes, the usual course was to hand over 
the female captives to the women to assist them in their 

244 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

labors. They were adopted into the families and usually 
treated with great kindness. We are expressly told that no 
cruelty or violence was visited upon them, and after adoption 
they were married in exactly the same way as the women of 
the tribe, and had the same choice and veto. This exceptional 
treatment of female captives by the North American Indians 
may well he attributed to the matriarchal traditions that per- 
vaded their social order. 

Captured Wife an Evidence of Valor. — ^The captured wife 
must have been a source of satisfaction to the ego of primi- 
tive man, as she was a tangible evidenoe of his prowess and 
might. She was in effect a trophy, attesting to his Valor in 
warfare, and to his resourcefulness and strength in carrying 
her off. 

From this feeling grew the conviction among savages that 
the members of the tribe married to captive women were 
more honorably married than those who had taken wives 
from within the tribe, which assured them a higher status in 
tribal prestige. 

Another factor contributing to the desirability of the cap- 
tured wife was the fact that as an alien she served the ex- 
ogamous purpose of bringing new blood into the tribe. This 
element increased in importance as primitive man became 
more influenced by incest taboos, and more eager to obtain 
a wife from outside the tribe. 

In the Babar Archipelago it was considered a glory to cap- 
ture a woman from another village. Among the Negritos of 
the Philippine Islands marriages, until comparatively recent 
times, were never contracted within the tribe. As it was the 
exogamous practice to capture women from neighboring 
tribes, this custom led to endless wars. 

Among the Chukchee, it is reported tliat a company of 

Marriage by Capture 245 

young men would seize a young girl and carry her to the 
house of the one who wanted her for a wife. Not only the 
men of alien families, but even fellow-tribesmen and cousins 
followed this practice after having been refused by the father 
of the girl. The assault and the ravishing were not considered 
as grounds for implacable hatred and feuds. The parents 
would come and demand ransom, which was paid, usually in 
kind — one woman for another. 

In the Purang district of Tibet, it was the custom when a 
young man wished to marry a girl, to await a favorable oppor- 
tunity and, accompanied by one or two of his friends, carry 
her off by force. Thence on, his methods were more civilized 
than those of many of the peoples who practiced marriage 
by capture. While he kept the girl confined to a separate 
house, he provided her with good food and nice clothes, and 
remained nearby to coax her and win her love. 

Should the girl prove unyielding and refuse to live with 
her captor, or if her parents did not desire the marriage, the 
matter was submitted to the village elders or the tribunal of 
the district chief for settlement. If they permitted the union, 
a day was set for the marriage, which took place amid much 
feasting and drinking of wine. 

Among the Gonds, a Dravidian tribe, marriage by force is 
commonplace. The girl may not like the man, and her parents 
may not countenance his suit. That does not discourage the 
swain. He awaits his opportunity, as for example when the 
girl goes to fetch water from the river, and with the aid of 
his friends, carries her off by force. When caught the girl is 
closely guarded. After a time she becomes reconciled to the 
man, and thenceforth they are regarded as husband and wife. 

In the mountains of Gazelle Peninsula of New Britain girls 
arc forcibly abducted from their parents. Sometimes a man 

246 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

carries off another man’s wife. If the men belong to different 
communities, it results in a feud. In other cases the matter is 
often amicably settled by some influential personage acting as 

Among the forest tribes in the northeastern part of the 
Mongala basin in the Congo, it is said that a man carries off 
a wife by f9rce, “betakes himself with her to the forest, lives 
there by hunting, and only returns to the village when the 
wife has a child and it is weaned.” Upon returning home, he 
frequently quits his temporary wife, and gives her half the 
proceeds of their hunting in exchange for the; child. 

Marriage by capture has authorization in the ancient code 
of the Hindu Aryans. According to the Laws of Manu, one 
of the eight legal modes of concluding a marriage was the 
ra\shasa mode, namely, “the forcible abduction of a maiden 
from her home, while she cries out and weeps, after her kins- 
men have been slain or wounded, and their houses broken 
open.” The sacred tradition permitted this mode of acquir- 
ing a wife to the Kshatriyas, or warrior caste. 

Mock Resistance as a Survival of Marriage by Capture. — 
The Roro tribe of British New Guinea have an unusual cere- 
monial touch in their marriage rites which suggests resistance 
to capture. On the wedding day a party of men belonging to 
the bridegroom’s local group, but not including the bride- 
groom, surround the house of the girl’s parents and carry it 
by mimic assault, with great fury and shouting. The bride 
thereupon rushes out and runs away as fast as she can, and 
although she is soon overtaken and caught, she defends her- 
self to the best of her ability with hands, feet and teeth. 

In the meantime a sham fight rages between the adherents 
of the bride and the groom. The bride’s mother, in the midst 
of the commotion, armed with a wooden club or digging 

Marriage by Capture 247 

stick, strikes wildly at every inanimate object within reach, 
and shouts curses on the ravishers of her daughter. This 
availing nothing, she collapses, crying for the loss of her child. 
The other women of the village join in the weeping and lam- 
entation. The girl’s mother keeps up the appearance of ex- 
travagant grief for three days, and she alone of the girl’s 
relatives does not accompany the bride to her father-in-law’s 

Among the Banyankole, in Northern Bantu, the bridegroom 
enters the kraal of the bride’s family and is conducted to the 
hut in which the bride stands waiting. He takes her right hand 
and leads her from the house and out of the kraal to the as- 
sembled guests. A strong rope is produced by one of the 
bride’s relatives and is tied to one of the bride’s legs. Sides are 
then chosen by members of the bride’s and the bridegroom’s 
clans and a tug of war takes place. The bride’s clan struggles 
to retain their sister, and the groom’s clan strives to carry 
her off. 

During this contest the correct procedure is for the bride to 
stand weeping, which she does, because she is taken from her 
old home and relatives. The groom stands by her, still holding 
her hand, and when the final pull is given in his favor, which 
is a foregone conclusion, he slips the rope from her ankle and 
hurries her to a group of friends a few yards away where a 
cowhide lies spread upon the ground. The bride sits upon 
this and the young men raise her up and rush off with her in 
triumph to the bridegroom’s parents’ house, pursued by 
friends and relatives of the bride. 

The custom among the Mongols is as follows: The bride- 
groom — distinguished by the bow-and-arrow case he carries 
slung from his shoulder — and his party proceed to the bride’s 
tent. Her brother blocks the entrance and demands of the 

248 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

strangers what brought them there. “We want to enter your 
tent,” they reply. “Then you’ll have to fight for it!” is the 
answer. The respective parties start to scuffle, shoving each 
other about a good deal. After a brief sham fight, the de- 
fenders give in and invite the assailants to enter the tent. 

Strenuous but mock preparations to prevent the seizure of 
the bride, ^d a final sham capture, have been a traditional 
practice in many parts of Europe. A commonplace custom 
is to barricade or stop the bridal procession in its march. 
In Italy this is known as fare la harricata, and in Holland as 
schutten or Xeeren. • 

Some authorities have suggested that the stopping of the 
bridal procession originated as a protective measure against 
evil spirits, which so^^long tormented the mind of man, in- 
cluding the European, down to quite modern times. The use 
of loud and abusive language is a common practice among 
some of the European peasantry, so much so as to be con- 
sidered a folk-custom. It is believed that the abuse was orig- 
inally directed against the “evil eye” as a danger which 
menaced the young couple. 

The barricading sometimes consists of throwing logs or 
similar objects, or even weapons, before the bridal carriage. 
More frequently, however, in later times, it became customary 
to throw a rope or string of flowers across the way. The bride- 
groom thereupon had to pay a ransom before the carriage was 
permitted to pass. 

The barring of the wedding procession with a cord is also 
known in certain parts of England and Wales. In the latter 
cotmtry, in fact, until quite recent years, the resistance offered 
was more formidable. On the morning of the wedding day 
the groom with his party demanded the bride. Her friends 
gave a firm refusal, whereupon a mock struggle took place. 

Marriage by Capture 249 

The bride, mounted behind her nearest kinsman, was carried 
off, pursued by the groom and his friends with loud shouts. 
When the participants had fatigued themselves and their 
horses, the groom was permitted to overtake his bride, and 
lead her triumphantly away. The mock capture of the bride 
was also formerly enacted in some parts of Ireland and 

Nansen, the Arctic explorer, states that on the east coast 
of Greenland the only method of contracting a marriage is 
still for the man to go to the girl’s hut, catch her by the hair 
or anything else which offers a hold, and drag her off to his 
dwelliilg without further ceremony. Violent scenes often re- 
sult, as maidens always affect the utmost bashfulness and 
reluctance to any proposal of marriage, lest they should lose 
their reputation for modesty. Meanwhile the woman’s rela- 
tions stand quietly looking on, as the struggle is considered 
a purely private affair, and the natural desire of the Green- 
lander to keep on friendly terms with his neighbor prevents 
him from attempting any interference with another’s business. 

Among the Eskimos near Smith Sound, there is no marriage 
ceremony other than that the young man is required to carry 
off his bride by main force. Here again feminine modesty de- 
mands a show of resistance, although the woman knows be- 
forehand that her destiny lies with the bridegroom at hand. 
As he attempts to embrace her on the appointed nuptial day, 
she responds to the inexorable law of tribal convention by 
struggling with all her might to free herself, kicking, biting 
and screaming, until she is safely landed in the hut of her 
future lord, when she gives up the combat very cheerfully 
and assumes possession of her new abode. Marriage may only 
take place after the lover has killed his first seal, thus testi- 
fying to his manhood and maturity. 

250 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

The Koryak have a characteristic custom, with some unique 
side features. When the bride’s father decides it is time to 
get the marriage under way, he tells the bridegroom that he 
may seize the girl — that is, marry her. The mother warns 
the bride that the groom has obtained the right to take her. 

Custom requires that the bride shall not surrender without 
a struggle,/ even if she deeply loves her groom. Should the 
groom find his bride undressed in a separate sleeping tent, 
which she is given before marriage, he would not touch her, 
considering the easy accessibility a wrong to himself. The 
bride’s resistance is a test of her chashty. Accordingly, the 
bride, aided by her friends, ties up with thongs the 'sleeves 
and trousers of her combination suit, so that it cannot be 
taken off without untying or cutting the thongs. 

On the day when the bridegroom obtains the right to seize 
the bride the latter goes about thus tied up, and tries to run 
away when the groom approaches her. The groom seizes an 
opportunity to catch her unawares, and tears or cuts the 
garments with a knife. He touches the bride in a most intimate 
manner, which is a symbol of the consummation of marriage; 
the young woman ceases to resist, and submissively leads the 
groom to her tent. The marriage ceremony is thus complete. 

Among the Lisu tribes of the Burma-China frontier, the 
village elders on the wedding day proceed to the home of the 
maid, with the youths who will assist them in bearing the 
bride away. At first she makes a show of resistance, kicking 
and biting her carriers, while the members of her family cry 
to the ancestral ghost that their child is being borne away and 
that they are powerless to help her. Upon arrival at the village 
boundary, however, the struggling maiden is released, and she 
walks gaily to her future home with the wedding party. 

Many European peoples have practiced ceiemonial mar- 

Marriage by Capture 251 

riagc by capture. In ancient Greece, especially Sparta, it had 
a strong tradition. A passage from Plutarch’s Life of Lycurgus 
gives illuminating details on this point: “In their marriages 
the bridegroom carried off the bride by violence, and she was 
never chosen in a tender age, but when she had arrived at full 
maturity. Then the woman that had the direction of the 
wedding cut the bride’s hair close to the skin, dressed her in 
a man’s clothes, laid her upon a mattress, and left her' in the 
dark. The bridegroom went in privately, untied her girdle, 
and carried her to another bed. Having stayed there a short 
time, he modestly retired to his usual apartment to sleep with 
the other young men, and observed the same conduct after- 
ward, spending the day with his companions, and reposing 
himself with them in the night, nor even visiting his bride 
but with great caution and apprehension of being discovered 
by the rest of the family; the bride at the same time exerted 
all her art to contrive convenient opportunities for their 
clandestine meetings.” 

The ceremonial of capture was long observed in Rome in 
the plebeian marriages, which were not constituted by con- 
farreatio or coemptio. The usual drama took place of the 
carrying off of the bride by the bridegroom, with the pre- 
tended resistance of the mother and other relatives. 

In the higher class marriages the ceremonial of capture was 
simplified, but still very significant. The hair of the bride was 
separated with the point of a javelin, and for this symbolic 
ceremony a javelin that had pierced the body of a gladiator 
was preferred. Then the bride, conducted to the house of her 
husband, was to enter it without touching the threshold; she 
was lifted over it — thus completing the final symbolism of the 
capture and taking her by force into the home of her future 
master. The latter custom is very ancient, and worldwide. It 

252 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

is found, among other places, in India, Java, China, Egypt, 
and it is still commonly practiced among peoples of Euro- 
pean tradition. 

The ceremonial resistance by the bride abetted by her 
family and female friends is not only a relic of a former prac- 
tice of genuine marriage by force or capture, but it also 
satisfies a^fundamental feminine trait of coyness and sexual 
modesty. Whether this modesty be real or assumed in the 
individual case, its universal manifestation indicates an ele- 
mentary characteristic normally present and instinctively 
asserting itself. 

Marriage by Elopement. — The runaway marriage has a 
long tradition behind it, even though we are prone to look 
upon it as a modern, escapade, typical of present-day youth. 
In primitive societies, elopement is sometimes resorted to as 
a means of defeating parental opposition — the same motive 
as in civilized society; at other times as a part of the nuptial 
procedure, either as a preliminary to the marriage or as a 
method of concluding it. 

Elopement is in itself a sufficient act among some tribes to 
make the rimaway couple husband and wife. We are told that 
the Dakota Indians had two kinds of marriage — ^buying a 
wife and runaway matches. It is the accepted principle that 
when the young people run away, they are to be forgiven at 
any time they choose to return, if it should be the next day, 
or six months afterward. 

Sometimes elopements are arranged with the connivance 
of the bride’s parents, who are too proud to admit that they 
would willingly permit their daughter to marry before a sub- 
stantial bride-price has been paid. 

Among the Havasupai of Arizona, if parents refuse to sell 

Marriage by Capture 253 

their daughter to a suitor and the couple elope, the matter is 
ended as far as parental opposition is concerned. The ethict 
of the tribe prescribe that when cohabitation has taken placc» 
the parents have no authority to declare the marriage void. 

Likewise among the Thompson Indians, even if an irate 
father succeeded in bringing back a daughter who had eloped 
with her lover, he must deliver her up to the young man, as 
custom declared them already married. 

Runaway marriage was especially prevalent among some of 
the Australian tribes, principally because that was the only 
way in which a man, with rare exceptions, could obtain a 
wife. Reference has already been made to the widespread 
practice among the Australians of taking wives by force from 
neighboring tribes. Due to the practice of child betrothal, and 
the monopolizing of women by the chieftains and other im- 
portant personages, elopement offered the only means, aside 
from capture, for the young men to procure a wife. 

It became a part of the business of the medicine-man to aid 
in the elopement of young couples, which gave sanction to the 
practice. If the parties were prohibited from marrying on 
account of the relationship that existed between them, the 
elopement was punished with great severity. Marrying under 
those proscribed conditions was a violation of the taboos, and 
in the belief of the tribesmen would bring ill luck and a train 
of evil magic upon the conununity. 

On the other hand, if the eloping couple were not of a 
tabooed relationship, they could remain man and wife. In 
many cases the lover had to fight the man to whom the girl 
had been betrothed or promised, or, if she were already mar- 
ried, her husband. In "some instances, a more general struggle 
occurred between the kindred of the two parties. The out- 

254 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

come of the struggle, in any event, decided whether the 
lover could keep the woman or not. 

In the Wollari tribe, in cases of elopement with the wife of 
another man, it was the custom for the abductor to stand out 
before a number of the woman’s kindred, who were armed 
with spears, he having merely a spear for protection to turn 
them aside. If he happened to pass through the ordeal safely, 
he was permitted to keep the woman. 

Among the Toorkomans, marriage can be concluded with 
or without the consent of the parents. In the latter case, the 
young couple elope and seek a neighboring com- 
munity. They are usually well received, such being the cus- 
tom, and remain a month or six weeks. During this time the 
elders of the two communities negotiate an agreement with 
the parents. They agree on a price to be paid for the girl, who 
thereupon returns to the parental home. She must remain 
six months or a year, or even longer, before living with her 
husband, and during all this time he may see her only 

The Mezeyn Arabs combine pursuit with elopement. The 
girl, in the so-called capture, evades pursuit and takes refuge 
in the mountains, where her friends have prepared provisions 
for her in advance. The bridegroom joins his future wife in 
her retreat, and it is there that the marriage is consummated. 
After this the couple return to the parental domicile, which 
the woman, unless she is pregnant, does not quit for a year. 

Among the Soligas of India, when a girl consents to marry, 
the man runs away with her to some neighboring village, and 
they live there until the honeymoon is over. They then return 
home and give a feast to the people of the village. 

Marriage by elopement is definitely recognized by the 
Chukmas of the Chittagong Hills. After a couple run away the 

Marriage by Capture 255 

parents of the girl can demand restitution on three separate 
occasions, but if the lover can successfully accomplish a fourth 
elopement, he has won wifely title to the girl. 

A man and woman of the Muduvars of Southern India who 
do not succeed in obtaining the consent of their relatives to 
marry, run away into the jungle or a cave, visiting the village 
frequently to obtain grain and other food from sympathizers. 
When the parental anger aroused by their conduct has sub- 
sided, however, they quietly return to the village and live as 
man and wife. 

Survivals of Marriage by Capture. — McLennan reminds us 
that in the whole range of legal symbolism there is no symbol 
more remarkable than that of capture in marriage ceremonies. 
Among many races the symbol of capture occurs whenever it 
is necessary, in their tradition, that the bridegroom or his 
friends should go through the form of feigning to steal the 
bride or carry her off by superior force. 

The marriage is agreed upon by mutual arrangement of the 
contracting parties, but a ceremonial capture or abduction of 
the bride follows as a matter of form to make the marriage 
valid. Variations of this practice are observed among 
peoples, ancient and modern, savage, barbarous and civiUzed. 

If there is no preceding contract or agreement, in the event 
of a capture or marriage by use of force, then the case is one of 
actual abduction, and is not ceremonial or symbolical. Many 
instances of this kind have been cited. 

The struggle, tears and screams of the bride among many 
peoples are recognized as a part of the formal marriage 
routine, but they are none the less considered absolutely 
necessary to prove her feminine traits of modesty and bash- 

In brief, the sham struggle and lamentation of the bride and 

256 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

her friends serve to show that the marriage was forced upon 
the girl and that she is entering it only under compulsion. 

As we have seen in a previous chapter, the functions of the 
bridesmaids, the “best man” and groomsmen at the wedding, 
and the custom of the honeymoon, a hasty departure after the 
wedding — symbolizing the act of carrying the bride away — 
derive frOm practices inherent under conditions of marriage 
by capture and by the use of force. 

The wedding ring itself, in one of its aspects, is regarded as 
a symbol of man’s absolute authority over his newly acquired 
spouse — a sublimated relic of the fetters which were placed 
upon the captive woman of primitive times as evidence of her 


Marriage by Purchase 

Marriage by CoNsroERATioN. — Marriage by purchase, or by 
consideration, has undoubtedly been the most widespread of 
all forms of marriage, at least within historic times. It has been 
practiced by peoples of all races, and all degrees of cultural 
development from the primitive to those possessing a high 
degree of civilization. It may be said to be the general and 
normal mode of acquiring a wife in all stages of cultmc above 
the lowest and below the most advanced. 

This form of marriage is implicit in patriarchal society, so 
marriage by purchase was inherited by European civilization 
from three direct sources — the Hebraic, the Roman and the 

The religious traditions of the Hebrews — ^imparted by the 
Old Testament theology; the legal traditions of the Romans — 
which formed the basic structure of Western jurisprudence; 
the philosophic traditions of the Greeks — ^which shaped the 
intellectual tendencies of the modern world — ^all of these 
jointly contributed to the concept of marriage that came down 
from antiquity, survived almost unaltered through the Middle 
Ages, and, with certain modifications, remains with us today. 

So firmly established was the ancient tradition that woman 
is essentially the property of her lord and master, devoid of 
rights and privileges — except those extended by the grace of 

258 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

masculine “chivalry” — that it was not until the nineteenth cen- 
tury, even in advanced countries, that she obtained elementary 
legal rights, and the twentieth century was well under way 
before she secured political equality, even in theory. 

It is a primary principle among the lower races that consent 
to marriage is not given for nothing. In most cases some con- 
sideratiqn has to be offered to the father or other relatives of 
the bride, either in the form of property of some kind, or of 
service, or of exchanging another woman for the bride. 

Far from being considered a degrading practice, even by the 
women themselves, the payment of* a consideration for the 
bride is looked upon as attesting to the legitimacy of the 
union, and therefore to the “honor” of the woman. The 
respectability of a wife is often measured by the price which 
has been paid for her. 

Among the Yakut, a wife for whom nothing has been paid 
is regarded as a social outcast. The women of the tribe do not 
think European women quite respectable, since they can be 
had for nothing, and even offer a dowry to a man as an induce- 
ment to marry them. In West Africa a wife who had not been 
properly purchased was considered a lewd and wanton 

Aside from capture, the alternative of paying a price of some 
kind for the bride is elopement, with all the personal hazards 
that this involves in most primitive communities. It is true that 
some tribes have cultivated a tolerance with respect to the 
eloping couple, usually making a noisy pretense of retaliation, 
of which examples were cited in the preceding chapter. 
Generally speaking, however, the runaway bridegroom is 
treated as an abductor, or holder of stolen goods. 

The value of the property given as a consideration, of course, 
varies greatly among different peoples. It may range from an 

Marriage by Purchase 259 

apparently trifling amount of food to articles of relatively 
great value. We are told that among the upper classes of the 
city of Mecca, virgins were sold as wives for from forty to 
three hundred dollars each. The value indicated was probably 
greater to them than this amount would be to us. 

In some cases the bride-price is given in the form of a 
present or gratuitous offering. The bridegroom may even re- 
ceive a gift in return — the equivalent of the dowry. 

Among the North American Indian tribes, property of rela- 
tively minor value was given in the form of presents, which 
were really more or less optional. There were, however, some 
exceptions. In the Shastika tribe of California, twelve ponies 
might be paid for an attractive bride, and that represents value 
in any society. Among the Hupa tribe in the same territory a 
man’s standing in the community depended on the amount of 
money which had been paid for his mother at the time of her 
marriage. If the sum was large, he was the peer of any in the 

In Africa, the purchase of wives is very extensive. The price 
may vary from some food, blankets or furs to trophies of great 
value. A chief, for instance, sometimes pays a hundred head 
of cattle or more for a bride. There may be involved in this 
the prestige and pride of the chief, who would consider it a re- 
flection on his exalted position if his bride were worth less 
than such an amount. 

In one part of Uganda, the customary price which men of 
high degree give for a wife consists of a hundred goats and six- 
teen cows. A suitable consideration for a poor man to pay is 
three or four bullocks or six sewing needles. Among the Ban- 
gala, a free man marrying a free woman was formerly required 
to give her parents four slaves, two male and two female, and 
no money or goods would be taken in lieu of them. 

a6o Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

Catdc and goats are the usual medium of exchange in pay- 
ing for the bride among many Africans. Ten or twelve cattle 
was an average price for the ordinary Kafir bride. Among the 
Hereto a “bear market” prevailed in the price of wives gener- 
ally, and a rich man or a dignitary gave no more for a wife 
than a poor man, which of necessity was little. It was the cus- 
tom that, when a woman went to live with a man he trans- 
ferred to her father or guardian a large ox, a heifer, a large fat 
sheep, and a ewe with a lamb, but the most valuable of these 
animals were at once strangled and eaten at the feast which 
was the only ceremony attending the union. 

A bridal price as high as three thousand roubles, equivalent 
to about fifteen hundred dollars at that time, is reported to 
have been paid aniong the Baskir of Asiatic Russia. A poor 
man, however, could obtain a mate for a cartload of wood or 

In general the price is influenced by a number of factors: by 
the personal qualities of the bride, by the social position of the 
respective families, by the age and desirability of the bride- 
groom, by the sexual ratio of the population, by the economic 
development of the community, and by other local considera- 
tions that might seem unimportant to us. 

Occasionally there is a fixed price established by custom or 
law, which must be paid regardless of these factors. Almost 
always, a divorced or widowed woman may be secured at a 
lower rate than one who has never been married before. A 
female who is under the age of puberty, or far above it, also 
usually commands a lesser price than one who, in the eyes of 
primitive peoples, is just ripe for marriage. 

Marriage by consideration still prevails among the Chinese, 
a highly civilized people. The persons who negotiate the mar- 

Marriage by Purchase 261 

riage specify the precise amount which is to be paid for the 
bride, and until this sum is handed over by the bridegroom or 
his family, the marriage cannot take place. 

In Mohammedan countries every marriage is supposed to be 
accompanied by the payment of a sum of money to the father 
of the bride. As the custom has developed, however, this 
payment is turned over to the bride as a marriage portion to 
protect her in case the husband dies or divorces her. A further 
step forward is indicated in many instances by the transfer of 
the bridal price into a gift made directly to the bride. 

In its literal sense, marriage by purchase was a custom that 
contributed to the degradation of woman, or it might be more 
accurately expressed as a practice inherent in the degraded 
position of woman. It placed her in the category of a non- 
personal commodity, for barter or sale, which in certain 
primitive societies and in ancient civilizations was literally 
the case. 

The position of the wife in classical Greece, where this 
practice prevailed, is indicated by a significant wedding 
custom. As soon as the bride entered the house of her new 
lord and master, she ceased to exist for her family. They had 
sold her, and there was no longer any claim upon her. Thin 
was symbolically expressed by burning before her husband’s 
house the gaily decorated carriage that had brought her there. 
The last tie linking her with her parents had been destroyed. 

Among the early Teutonic and English peoples marriage 
took the form of a sale of the bride by the father, or other 
legal guardian, to the bridegroom. The beweddung was a 
genuine contract of sale. Sale-marriage was the common form 
of nuptials. The marriage ring at this period was evidence that 
the bride-price had been paid. 

262 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

In England the York and Sarum manuals in some of their 
forms direct the bride, after the delivery of the ring, to fall at 
her husband’s feet, and sometimes to kiss his right foot. The 
early Church’s acceptance of these folkways and incorporating 
them into the ritual led Pollack and Maitland in their History 
of English Law to refer to “that curious cabinet of antiquities, 
the marriage ritual of the English Church.” 

In Russia it was also the custom for the bride to kiss her 
husband’s feet as a visible sign of her subjugation. Subse- 
quently, in France, the custom underwent the refinement of 
having the bride let the ring fall in front of the altar and then 
stoop at her husband’s feet to pick it up. Once more a primi- 
tive demonstrative action became symbolized by a perfunctory 

Marriage by purchase was an undisguised business trans- 
action among the Russian peasantry down to the time of the 
revolution. An observer reports the procedure as follows: 
The father of the suitor, usually accompanied by a relative, 
visits the girl’s parents and says, “We have a purchaser; you 
a commodity. Will you sell your ware ?” Then ensues the bar- 
gaining, which we are told differs in no respect from a negotia- 
tion over the sale of a cow. 

In ancient Russia a marriageable girl was called a \un\a, 
from l^una (marten), because her parents might exchange her 
for marten-skins, the usual medium in those old days. The 
Scandinavians spoke of “the fairly bought wife” (J^pna mundi 

The purchase of the bride was customary among the ancient 
Celts. In Ireland the bride-price (called coibche) consisted of 
various objects, such as articles of gold, silver, or bronze, 
clothes or horse-bridles, cattle or swine, land or houses. Install- 

Marriage by Purchase 263 

ment payment was not unusual, the husband making a yearly 
remittance after marriage until his obligation was fulfilled. 

Paying the Bride-Price on the Installment Plan. — ^Among 
the Kirgiz, a Turkish people of southwestern Siberia, a man 
will affiance his ten-year-old son to a girl and proceed at once 
to accumulate the bride-price, which may be as high as eighty 
cattle. This is paid in installments. When a substantial portion 
has been paid over to the girl’s family, the youth may visit his 
fiancee, and the marriage is celebrated upon completion of the 

These^ people are Mohammedans, but owing to the high 
price that prevails for wives, few may have more than one 
spouse and rarely is a woman divorced. Under the law of 
Islam, of course, the husband’s authority is supreme, and 
divorce is his prerogative, merely a matter of masculine whim 
if he wishes to exercise it. But the economic law of supply and 
demand wins out over the ecclesiastical mandate. The woman 
is definitely regarded as her husband’s property and contact 
with her own family is lost. 

The Ho, an Ewe tribe in the interior of West Africa, also use 
the time system of payments and services to take proprietary 
title to the wife. There is, however, no complete severance of 
the bride from her family. The preliminary arrangements are 
often made even before the girl’s birth. A certain woman 
appeals to a man, and he makes an offer for the next daughter 
she may bear. 

If the proposition is accepted, the fianc6 binds the bargain 
by making an initial gift to the prospective parents-in-law. 
Regular monthly gifts of cowrie shells are made to the infant 
daughter upon her arrival, and payments are made to the 
parents in the form of labor and other service rendered by the 
bridegroom-to-be around the home. The girl at puberty is 

264 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

turned over to her fiance. However, if the compensation seems 
to the parents inadequate, in view of the girl’s desirability, and 
a better market for her elsewhere develops, they may void the 
old pre-natal agreement by turning over to the bridegroom a 
stipulated sum of cowrie money. 

Among some Siberian peoples the man is permitted to have 
sexual relations with his future wife as soon as he has paid a 
certain portion of the bride-price. In other instances, the mar- 
riage may take place before the stipulated payments have been 

There is a wide range of latitude in the time allowed by 
different tribal customs for completing the installment pay- 
ments. Among some West Africans the price is supposed to be 
paid in full within ppe or two years after the marriage. Among 
certain other groups the payment may extend over a period of 
many years. This at least tends to discourage polygyny and to 
keep marriage on a monogamic basis. 

Among the Akikuyn marriage may take place after twenty 
goats have been turned over to the bride’s family, but the re- 
mainder is sometimes not paid until the eldest child is eight 
or ten years of age. It is said that in the southern Chin Hills the 
debt usually hangs over the husband for the rest of his life. 
Cases have been cited where men have quarreled over the still 
unpaid portion of the marriage price of their grandmothers 
and other female ancestors. 

The observation has been made that perhaps the bride’s 
family encourages these long-drawn-out payments, and even 
delinquencies, as it gives them the right to take back their 
daughter if they see fit, thus holding the whip hand over the 
harassed husband. It seems that even the primitive savage 
knows the painful consequences of installment buying, which 
wc have come to look upon as purely a product of modern 

Marriage by Purchase 265 

civilization, with its high-pressure selling of automobiles, 
electric refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, and other household 

In Timorlaut, so long as the bride-price is not paid in full, 
the wife is entitled to stay with her parents and is not com- 
pletely subjugated to her husband, nor does he possess a right 
to the children. Among the Central African Banyoro, a poor 
man unable to produce at once the cattle required for his 
marriage, arranges to pay for them by installments. Children 
born in the meantime belong to the wife’s father, and each of 
them must be redeemed with a cow. 

We are told that in Tcnimber the father of the girl has 
often to wait a long time for the ivory portion of her price, but 
he hands over the bride to the purchaser on payment of other 
items of the bargain. The husband thereupon takes up resi- 
dence in his father-in-law’s household, where the wife and 
her children remain as hostages until payment is made in full. 

Marriage by Exchange. — ^The theory that one doesn’t give 
something for nothing, which the primitive has applied in de- 
livering his daughter in marriage for a bride-price, also finds 
expression in the custom of marriage by exchange. Thus the 
wife is obtained in exchange for a female relative. 

Perhaps the most common practice in this form of matri- 
monial procedure is the exchange of girls by their respective 
parents as wives of each other’s sons, or in some tribes the ex- 
change of sisters or other female relatives by the young men 
themselves. In these cases it is not merely the blood-sisters 
of the men that are exchanged, but also clan-sisters, when the 
former are not available. The terms “sister” and “brother” in 
tribal life are not restricted to children of the same parents, 
but often include all members of the clan or tribe of the same 

266 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

Among the Narrinyeri of South Australia, it is considered 
disgraceful for a woman to take a husband who has given no 
other woman for her. If there are no daughters in the family as 
a basis for exchange, the right to give a daughter away is often 
purchased from the nearest male relative who has a sister to 

The p/actice of exchanging women as wives prevails among 
the Kiwai Papuans, as it does in New Guinea, the New Hebri- 
des, the Solomon Islands and Sumatra. In the western islands 
of Torres Strait the exchange of “sisters,” in the tribal sense, 
was the common method of obtaining* a wife. As practiced by 
some tribes, a bride-price is called for in addition to the ex- 
change — the bridegroom in this case paying his father-in-law 
a stipulated sum.- 

It is said that the Sumatrans, instead of paying the jujur, or 
bride-price, sometimes exchange one virgin for another. A 
man who has a son and daughter gives the latter in exchange 
for a wife to the former, and the man who receives her dis- 
poses of her as his own child or marries her himself. Peoples 
practicing marriage by exchange are often polygynous. 

As another instance, a brother may give his sister in ex- 
change for a wife, or, lacking a sister, will substitute a cousin 
for the purpose. Moreover, it is not unusual to borrow a girl 
from a friend or relative in order to exchange her for a wife, 
the borrower pledging himself to replace her in due time, or 
to pay her jujur when called for. 

Massiage by Service. — h. custom closely identified with 
marriage by purchase — ^but having certain significant differ- 
ences — ^is that of serving the parents of the bride for a specified 
time as a means of paying for her. It often happens in cases 
where the prospective bridegroom is without means to make a 
cash purchase. In these cases, it is literally marriage by pur- 

Marriage by 'Purchase 267 

chase, the payment being made with the husband’s labor 
instead of property. 

In some instances, however, it is a requirement in itself, in 
addition to paying the bridal price, even if the bridegroom is 
wealthy. In these cases, the whole principle of the marriage is 
usually different from marriage by purchase. 

The Biblical classic of this kind is set forth in the story of 
Jacob {Genesis, xxix), who went to his uncle Laban’s house 
and fell in love with his cousin Rachel, whom he saw as she 
brought her father’s sheep to a well. 

We are told “Laban had two daughters, the name of the 
elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. And 
Leah’s eyes were tender, but Rachel was beautiful and well 
favored. And Jacob loved Rachel, and he said, I will serve thee 
seven years for Rachel, thy younger daughter. And Laban 
said. It is better that I give her to thee, than that I should give 
her to another man : abide with me.” 

Jacob thereupon served seven years for Rachel, when Laban 
gathered together all the men of the place, and had a great 
feast. When Jacob retired to the nuptial bed, Leah was sub- 
stituted for the beautiful Rachel, and in the morning the 
bridegroom discovered he had been tricked. Upon complain- 
ing to Laban, Jacob was given Rachel at once, as a second wife, 
but had to remain seven years longer in Laban’s service to pay 
for her. It is clearly indicated here that cohabitation was 
recognized as the real act of marriage; having slept with 
Leah, Jacob was ipso facto her husband, even though no cere- 
mony uniting him with her had been performed. 

In primitive matriarchal societies the man obtains marital 
status with a woman by contributing his services to her family. 
In the absence of personal property and transferable wealth, 
that was the sole form of economic contribution he was able 

268 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

to make. This seems to be the origin of marriage by service, 
although it is found — ^probably as a holdover — ^in patriarchal 
societies, as in the instance cited from Genesis. 

In the matriarchal form of society, the husband continued 
in the same economic role as long as he lived, or at least as 
long as he remained married to the woman in question; 
whereas; under the patriarchal system, the term of service was 
for a specific period, until the bride-price was paid. 

The practice has been followed among a number of South 
American aboriginal tribes. The young bridegroom of the 
Canelos Indians of Ecuador has to clear the ground for his 
father-in-law’s chacra and yuca crops. Among the ^Brazilian 
Indians a young man has to work for several years with great 
diligence for his tyjfe’s people before he reaches independent 
status. The bridegroom of the Arawaks of British Guiana 
works for his father-in-law, and the young couple often remain 
with him until an increasing family makes a separate establish- 
ment necessary. 

Among the Yucatan Indians the young husband serves his 
father-in-law for a period of four or five years. If he fails to 
complete the required term of service, he is turned adrift and 
the woman is given to another man. 

Among some of the South American tribes the custom of 
service was a competitive test that began in the courting stage. 
When several suitors were desirous of marrying a girl, they 
would all serve for her during a period of two or three years. 
The suitors would work for her father and family, cultivate 
his garden, cut wood, fish and hunt and supply the household 
with such things as their skill was able to produce. The swain 
who proved most active, and whose contributions were most 
abundant, was selected as the girl’s husband. 

That there is often some obscure principle involved in the 

Marriage by Purchase 769 

service, and that in these cases it is not purely a form of pay- 
ment, is evidenced by the continuance of the practice even 
where the man makes such a payment. The Awok of northern 
Nigeria, the Koryak, and the Chukchee of Northern Asia, 
follow this custom. The man pays a bride-price for his wife, 
but in addition he must work for a certain time in the service 
of his prospective father-in-law. 

This personal service cannot be waived by outright pur- 
chase. Even a rich suitor who owns flocks in his own right is 
obliged to serve several years as herdsman for his wife’s father. 
Not only is he placed in the position of a servant, but he is 
often treated more harshly than an ordinary servant. The 
whole idea behind the personal service appears to be a test of 
strength and character to determine whether or not, in the 
eyes of the bride’s family, the suitor is worthy of their 

Marriage by service in its more conventional form is widely 
practiced by aboriginal tribes of India, Indo-China and China 
by the Ainu of Japan, in many islands of the Indian Archi- 
pelago, in Africa and South America. The period of service 
seldom lasts less than a year, and may last as many as ten, 
twelve or fifteen years. During this time the prospective bride- 
groom may or may not have marital relations with the bride. 
He may even have to serve after his marriage as well, perhaps 
until a child is born, or even longer, according to local custom. 

The Chukchee call the practice of marriage by service by a 
term which means “serving as a herdsman in payment for the 
bride.” So firmly is this term established that it is used even 
by the maritime natives of the same tribe, although they have 
no herds, and the bridegroom simply lives in the household of 
his bride, and works for her father for a stated period. 

The preliminaries to an ordinary marriage among the Kuki- 

270 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

Lushais of Assam have been described as follows: A man hav. 
ing taken a liking to a girl offers a present of liquor to thft 
parents and talks the matter over with them. If they find the 
man acceptable as a son-in-law, he takes up his residence with 
them for three years, working in the jhums, and becoming 
practically a bond servant. At the end of the probational 
period he is allowed to marry the girl, but even then he is not 
free, as he has to remain on for another two seasons, working 
in the same manner as he did before. 

At the end of five years, he is at liberty to build a separate 
house and start life on his own account. Two rupees is the 
amount usually paid the parents of the girl, the sum evidently 
representing a nominal payment to bind the contract, the 
long period of servitude being the real consideration. 

Likewise among the Bisayans of the Samar and Leyte 
islands of the Philippines, the suitor has to serve in the house 
of the bride’s parents two, three and even five years before he 
is free to take the bride home. And money cannot purchase 
exemption from this onerous restriction. Other tribes in the 
same group and islands of the Indian Archipelago regard 
service as a regular or necessary preliminary to marriage. 

A year’s service suffices for the bridegroom of the Kenai, an 
Eskimo people of Alaska. It is the custom for the suitor to go 
to the house of his prospective father-in-law; without any ex- 
planation, he starts to heat the bathroom, bring in water, 
and prepare food. If his suit is not rejected he remains as a 
servant in the house a whole year, after which he is rewarded 
by the father-in-law for his services, and he takes his wife 
home with him. 

Among the Makaranga of South Africa, a young man too 
poor to acquire a wife by the payment of cattle makes an 
arrangement with the father of the girl to live with her and 

Marriage by Purchase 271 

to serve him. As the children from this xmion do not belong 
to their father until the full that is, the bride-price con- 
sisting of cattle — has been paid, the father of the woman has 
sole control over all that are born. 

Marriage by servitude was not uncommon among the North 
American Indians, and the custom fitted well into their 
matriarchal system. As a matter of fact, the new husband 
might truly be said to have been absorbed into the wife’s 
family, and in a sense he rendered lifelong service to her 
people. Even the marriage was not fully confirmed until the 
birth of a child. Prior to that event, among most tribes, the 
wife could dismiss her husband at her pleasure ; or, even after- 
ward, for cause. Any children born of a marriage so termi- 
nated belonged to the wife’s family, not to the husband. There 
is no evidence that a woman under any circumstances left her 
clan to join that of her husband. 

The net result of marriage by servitude is placing tlic hus- 
band in a position subordinate to the wife, or at least to the 
wife’s family, in which he is so long treated as a servant. It is 
readily seen that the wife married under these conditions 
acquires a certain independence which is not the case in the 
instance of marriage by purchase. 

Invariably, the serving husband could be turned out if he 
proved unsatisfactory, cither as a worker or as a mate. In fact, 
the period of service seemed to have been designed as a test 
of his worthiness. In those instances where the wife was finally 
taken away from her parents, she often had the right, if ill- 
treated by her husband, to return to her family. This was 
rarely, if ever, the case in marriage by purchase, an institution 
in which woman was regarded purely as property, or as a 
slave, which of course is tantamount to property. 

Marriage by service did, therefore, have the moral virtue of 

272 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

lessening the rigid and sometimes cruel subjection to which 
woman is so often liable in savage and barbarous societies. 

Bride-Price Payable to the Bride.— A considerable step 
forward in the evolution of the marriage relationship is indi- 
cated when the bride-price becomes the property of the bride. 
The effect of this is that the bride, instead of being purchased 
as a chattel, is given a present. 

Of course, this does not mean that the status of the married 
woman is suddenly transformed from one of extreme sub- 
jugation to that of marital bliss. The custom of the bride- 
groom making a gift to the bride prevailed at a stage in 
patriarchal society when woman was still under the masculine 
strong-arm, to insure against her becoming entirely dependent 
upon her father in>the event of her husband’s death, or her 
divorcement. In brief, this practice was primarily in the in- 
terest of the patriarchal father. It was, however, a decisive 
step forward for the woman. 

This practice has long been customary among the Jews 
and Mohammedans, both of whom held woman in low re- 
gard. In order to protect the wife in the event of her becoming 
widowed or divorced, it was established by the Jewish Law 
that before the nuptials the husband was to make out an ob- 
ligation in writing, which entitled her to receive a certain sum 
from his estate in the case of his death, or in the event that the 
marriage was terminated by divorce. 

This obligation was known as \ethubhah (marriage deed). 
The minimum amount fixed under the obligation was two 
hundred silver denarii upon marriage to a virgin, or one hun- 
dred upon marriage to a widow. As security for the wife’s 
claim under this agreement, all the property of the husband, 
both real and personal, was mortgaged. The origin of this 

Marriage by Purchase 

custom, which persists to the present day, is attributed to 
Simon ben Shatach, about lOO B.C. 

The Mohammedan sadaq, which is actually handed over to 
the father of the bride, is presumed by the Koranic law to be- 
come the property of the bride herself. The giving of a sadaq 
is required for effecting a valid marriage. While a Moham- 
medan may legally marry a woman without mention of a 
sadaq, the law presumes this consideration in her favor by 
virtue of the contract itself. It is thus implicit in the Islamic 
marriage. Custom prescribes the amount of the sadaq shall be 
greater for a virgin than for a widow or a divorced wife. 

In India the bridal price of former times that went to the 
parents or guardians of the bride later became a wedding gift, 
called culka, or the bride’s fee — ^which the bride received, 
either directly from the groom, or through her parents. The 
Laws of Manu state with respect to this: “When the relatives 
do not appropriate for their use the gratuity given, it is not 
a sale; in that case the gift is only a token of respect and of 
kindness toward the maiden.” 

The change in making the bride-price in favor of the bride, 
instead of the parents or guardian, also occurred among the 
Teutonic peoples after the sixth century A.D. This did not 
mean, however, that the former bride-price was actually paid 
to the bride upon the marriage. Among those strongly 
patriarchal peoples, the wife’s property was under her hus- 
band’s control during his lifetime, so that the bride-price was 
actually converted into a provision for the widow, payable 
after death from the husband’s estate. 

The early English marriage provisions likewise contained a 
covenant whereby the bridegroom agreed with the bride’s 
parents that he would make a settlement upon his future wife. 

274 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

This custom is also traceable from the former undisguised 
practice of marriage by purchase. The groom’s declaration was 
that he gave security for the morning gift, which the wife was 
to receive if she “chose his will,” this being her dower if she 
outlived him. 

The Morning Gift. — ^The morning gift has had long sur- 
vival in Europe; in Germany and Switzerland down to very 
recent times. Its origin, and even its exact meaning, are lost 
in the haze of antiquity. That it evolved out of the ancient 
bride-price is generally conceded. It has been connected with 
the dos (dowry) which Tacitus mentioned as having been 
brought to the wife by the husband. It has also been con- 
sidered as a pretium virginitatis, but in opposition to this, it 
has been argued thSl the morning gift was sometimes given 
to widows. The name seems to indicate, however, that it had 
something to do with the consummation of marriage. 

Perhaps a clue is found in the old Welsh custom, under 
which the husband had to give to his wife a present, called 
cowyll, “for her maidenhood,” on the morning after the con- 
summation of the marriage. A similar custom prevailed in 
Lombard, Italy; on the morning after the consummation of 
the marriage the husband gave his bride a present (jnorgen- 

The word “morganatic” in morganatic marriage derives 
from the medieval Latin morganatica, or morning gift. 

The Dowry. — ^The institution of the dowry is as old as 
Homer, and it often flourished in ancient and medieval 
Europe alongside of marriage by purchase, especially among 
the wealthy. In heroic Greece, no man of rank and wealth 
gave his daughter without a dowry, although, on the other 
hand, he accepted largess for her, perhaps even to a greater 
value, if she were much sought after. 

Marriage by Purchase 275 

The dowry was also in vogue during the classical period of 
Greece, at least among families of wealth and distinction. It 
was in fact a criterion of honorable marriage, as distinguished 
from concubinage. Isaeus said that no decent man would give 
his legitimate daughter less than a tenth of his property. At 
the time of Aristotle it is estimated that nearly two-fifths of 
the whole territory of Sparta belonged to the women as their 

In Rome, even more than in Greece, the marriage portion 
became a mark of eminence for a legitimate wife. It was the 
legal right of a woman to demand a dos, or dower, from her 
father, Taut it was at first given to the husband to help defray 
the expenses of the new household, representing the wife’s in- 
terest therein. 

Later, under the development of Roman law, the wife’s 
dotal property was fully protected and she was recognized as 
the sole owner. The husband’s right to the use of this property 
was restricted to the time during which the marriage lasted, 
and safeguards were imposed prohibiting him from alienating 
or mortgaging any funds comprised in the dos. 

The dowry as a marriage portion may have the meaning of a 
return gift to the bridegroom. It may also imply the very 
equitable arrangement that the wife as well as the husband is 
expected to contribute to the expenses of the joint household. 
In countless instances, it has been a practical means by which 
a father has bought a husband for his daughter. This has been 
particularly the case where marriageable women have out- 
numbered the marriageable men in a given population, and 
where women of wealthy but socially inferior families have 
sought husbands of high rank, social prestige or title. 

It was the custom among the ancient Mexicans, when a 
couple started housekeeping, to make an inventory of all the 

276 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

effects the man and wife brought together — ^the furnishings 
for the house, land, jewels and ornaments, etc. This inventory 
was kept by the bride’s father, and in the event of a divorce — 
which was common if the couple did not get along well to- 
gether — the goods were divided according to the portion 
that each had brought. 

The Laws of Hammurabi, King of Babylon about 1955 B.C., 
provide that the wife’s marriage portion be returned to her if 
the husband puts her away (divorces her), or “if she has been 
economical and has no vice, and her husband has gone out and 
greatly belittled her,’’ and she in consequence leaves him. On 
the wife’s death, this portion passes to her children, 'and, in 
case she leaves no children, it reverts to the house of her 
father. This is contingent, however, upon the bride-price being 
returned to the husband. If the latter does not get the bride- 
price back, he is entitled to deduct it from the marriage 
portion, and give the balance to his father-in-law. 

In practically all cases the husband had the privilege of using 
the wife’s marriage portion and enjoying the profits that 
may have derived therefrom, without the right of impairing 
the principal. Of course, notwithstanding some of the pre- 
cautions taken by law, as already cited, there were abuses 
under these circumstances, where the husband literally 
squandered or dissipated his wife’s dowry, and rarely could 
anything be done about it, unless the wife’s family retained a 
mortgage on the husband’s property, which was sometimes 

William Boulting in his book. Woman in Italy, gives an 
instance of the patriarchal power of the father in the year 
1488. A Genoese blacksmith promises his daughter to another 
man following the same trade, with a dowry of 400 lire, pay- 
able in four years. Meanwhile he agrees to take his prospective 

Marriage by Purchase 277 

son-in-law into his shop and support him. Should there be any 
indecorous conduct between the affianced couple, however, 
both shall be sent away and the father set free from every 

At this period the destiny of a daughter could be deter- 
mined by a father in his will, and the widow and the dead 
man’s other trustee could delegate their authority over her. 
Another case is cited of a Genoese imdertaking by legal con- 
tract to give his daughter as a wife to another citizen upon her 
attaining the marriageable age of twelve, and, in pledge of 
fulfilment, the prospective son-in-law receives a house. 

We’ are told that two Genoese (acting as matrimonial 
brokers) declared they had received authority from a widow 
to marry her daughter to whatever Genoese citizen may 
appear most desirable, with a dowry of too bezants, in addi- 
tion to the trousseau. If the future couple were present at 
their betrothal it was certified in the presence of witnesses by 
the gift of a ring and a kiss. The kiss was especially important, 
as “the recipient was supposed to be half-deflowered thereby.” 

The significance of this statement lies in the fact that among 
the higher class Italians of that period, girls and young women 
were carefully guarded and kept from any but the most 
formal contact with members of the opposite sex. If a man 
publicly kissed a young woman, it would be regarded as a 
violation of her virtue, for which the only honorable repara- 
tion was marriage; otherwise, she would be looked upon as a 
ruined woman, and no self-respecting man would ever marry 

Dowries of many kinds and forms arc recorded, but no- 
where do we find one sought with more frankness and self- 
assurance than by a receptive male Colonial, who inserted the 
following advertisement in the Boston Evening Post of 

2yb Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

February 23, 1759, one of countless numbers of similar solici- 
tations that were to follow: 

To the Ladies: Any young Lady between the Age of Eighteen 
and Twenty-three, of a Midling Stature; brown Hair, regular 
Features and a Lively Brisk Eye; of Good Morals and not Tinc- 
tured with anything that may Sully so Distinguishable a Form; 
possessed of three or four hundred pounds entirely her own Dis- 
posal, and where there will be no necessity of Going Through the 
tiresome Talk of addressing Parents or Guardians for their Con- 
sent: Such a one by leaving a Line directed for A. W. at the 
British Coffee House in King Street appointing where an Inter- 
view may be had w ill meet a Person who flatters himself he shall 
not be thought Disagreeable by any Lady answering thf above 
description. N. B. Protound Secrecy will be observed. No Trifling 
Answers will be regarded. 

A. W., while lackiftg the finesse of a Romeo, was obviously 
a business man who knew what he wanted and wasted no 
time or words in getting to the point. Many well-knowi 
alliances between American heiresses and representatives of 
European nobility — in which an immense dowry was cashed 
in for a title — ^make the above advertisement look like a gem 
of sentimentality. 


Trial Marriage 

Ancient Forms of Trial Marriage. — In making a survey 
of the social traits and customs of mankind, we must come to 
the inescapable conclusion that “there is nothing new under 
the sim.” Some years ago there v/as a great to-do and con- 
troversy over the question of trial marriage, which was 
roundly denounced in many quarters as an ultra-modern 
innovation that threatened the family, the home and all that 
our time-honored moral code holds dear. 

Studies in anthropological lore remind us that trial mar- 
riage is older even than our time-honored moral system, and 
under one subterfuge or another has survived every change 
in man’s mode of marriage, and crops up under various names 
or in divers forms at all epochs. 

In using the broad term trial marriage in the present in- 
stance, it is not intended to convey, at the moment, that all 
such forms have been regularly concluded in a legal manner. 
That phase of the subject will be discussed imder a special 
subdivision later in the chapter. 

Trial marriage, in its historic sense, is represented by a 
temporary sexual mating, or a sequence of temporary sexual 
matings — often found in primitive society, and not unknown 
in modern life — terminating in a regular legal marriage when 
a satisfactory partner has been found through this form of 


280 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

Often these temporary matings, as noted by anthropological 
observers in their reports, have combined tender and idealistic 
love with the strong physical passion of youth. The matings 
while they lasted have been a sincere and heartfelt mingling 
of two enamored souls, resembling in this respect the un- 
consummated “p'lPPy love” frequently seen among adoles- 
cents in our own society. 

Some phases of this subject have been discussed under their 
more formal classifications in previous chapters. In the earlier 
stages of our Western civilization these forms of mating were 
especially common among Teutonic, Celtic and Anglo-Saxon 
peoples. They have passed under such names as Proben 'dchte, 
fensterln, Kiltgang, handfasting, bundling, sitting-up, court- 
ing-on-the-bed, tarrying, night-visiting, night-running, and 

Some of these customs as practiced in certain areas did not 
always reach the stage of sexual mating, but most of them 
were definitely of that character, and all of them were recog- 
nized as such in most places, especially where they had a long 
traditional background in the local folkways. 

All of them had the common trait of fidelity to the tempo- 
rary mate, as the custom was generally practiced, thereby dis- 
tinguishing them from promiscuous sexual episodes. In all 
cases, they were socially approved practices in their respective 
communities, and there was no stigma of moral reproach 
attached to those who engaged in the custom. It was assumed 
that the couple had serious intentions, and would eventually 
conclude a formal marriage if they found themselves suited 
to each other. 

On the other hand, if they definitely broke off relations, 
their past experience was not held against them and they 
normally formed new contacts. If pregnancy resulted from 

Trial Marriage 281 

the free union, the couple were expected to marry in order to 
legitimatize the offspring. Among primitives, marriage is often 
not required in case of pregnancy, unless both parties are 
agreeable to the union, as there is no distinction made between 
legitimate and illegitimate children, and premarital pregnancy 
usually brings no opprobrium and does not disqualify the 
woman for future marriage. 

Trial Marriage Among Primitives. — ^The Eskimos of the 
Ungava district often took wives “for a period.” Among the 
Icelanders it was customary for a man and a woman to decide 
to live together for a year, and when that time expired, if 
both parties agreed, they became husband and wife. If not 
they separated, and neither was the less thought of for the ex- 

Many of the North American Indian tribes, and the West 
African Negroes followed the same custom. Natives of some 
of the islands of the Indian Archipelago are regularly be- 
trothed to each other for a longer or shorter time, sometimes 
for not more than a month, and at others for a period of years. 

In Tibet temporary marriages are recognized as conventional 
unions, and may be contracted for six months, a month, or 
even a week. Marriages among the Abyssinians are likewise 
contracted for a period, at the end of which the husband and 
wife separate and go their separate ways. 

Ammianiis Marcel linus reported that among the ancient 
Arabs marriages were often entered into for a limited time of 
definite length, and at the termination of this period the wife 
might withdraw if she so desired. Thus it was an optional 
arrangement, which is really an identifying characteristic of 
trial marriage, because when both parties to the union are 
satisfied it continues and normally becomes permanent. 

Apparently there is something in the Arabian philosophy 

282 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

to which marriage by trial appeals, as this form of marital 
alliance still exists in certain parts of Arabia. We are told 
that in Mecca marriages of short duration are contracted by 
pilgrims who remain there for longer or shorter periods of 
time. Egyptian women make a practice of going there to 
enter into such unions. 

Temporary marriages are recognized by the Shi’ah Mos- 
lems, and may be contracted for any fixed period — a day, a 
month, a year, or any other stated length of time. This 
temporary agreement of marriage, termed mut’ah, establishes 
no right of inheritance in either principal, although children 
born of the union are legitimate and inherit from their parents 
the same as offspring of a permanent marriage. 

The wife is not.,entitled to any maintenance unless the 
contract so stipulates. The husband has the privilege of 
refusing procreation, which he docs not have in permanent 
marriage. Another striking difference between the permanent 
and temporary contract of marriage is that in the latter the 
husband has no power to divorce his wife, although the 
marriage may be dissolved by the mutual consent of the 
parties before the specified period has expired. This form 
of temporary marriage still exists among some of the Islamic 
peoples, but it is held to be unlawful by the more orthodox 

Among the ancient Egyptians marriages were not definitely 
concluded until after a “trial year.” Reference to this usage is 
constantly foimd in legal contracts. Very often a child was 
born before the formal marriage was concluded, as it was not 
thought proper to marry until the trial period was over. 

Some of the Ceylon natives used to contract marriage pro- 
visionally for fourteen days. After that they were either con- 
firmed or dissolved. 

Trial Marriage 283 

The young people of the Trobriand Islands, British New 
Guinea, after puberty gradually enter into definite sexual 
alliances, which are invariably temporary and may be termi- 
nated and others undertaken, until a final permanent union 
is concluded. They are often undertaken with all the idealism 
and enthusiasm of youth. Professor Malinowski states that 
the adolescent gets definitely attached to a given person, 
wishes to possess her, works purposefully toward that goal, 
plans to reach the fulfilment of his desires by magical and 
other means, and finally rejoices in achievement. 

The boy develops a desire to retain the fidelity and exclusive 
affectidn of the loved one, at least for a time. The feeling, 
however, is not associated with any idea of settling down to 
one exclusive relationship. The young people generally wish 
to pass through other experiences until they feel they have 
found the mate that is most completely compatible to them. 

Two lovers living together in a buJ^umatula (the bachelors’ 
and unmarried girls’ house) are not bound to each other by 
any tics in tribal law or imposed by custom. They come 
together under the spell of personal attraction, and are kept 
together by sexual passion or personal attachment. They may 
part at will. In this way, however, a temporary liaison often 
develops into a permanent liaison, ending in marriage. 

The bu1{UTnatula is an institution sponsored by tribal custom 
and etiquette that offers shelter and privacy to young couples 
in their amorous pursuits. A limited number of couples — ^from 
two to four — live together for longer or shorter periods under 
this temporary arrangement. Actually the couples live here 
only at night, as sleeping quarters, spending the day-times 
and taking their meals in association with their respective 
family households. 

The institution of the bukumattda is characterized by the 

284 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

following features: (a) individual appropriation — the partners 
of each couple belonging exclusively to one another; (b) 
strict decorum and absence of any orgiastic or lascivious 
display; (c) the lack of any legally binding element; (d) the 
exclusion of any other community of interest between a pair, 
save that of cohabitation. 

The CKippewa, and other American Indian tribes, counte- 
nanced prenuptial freedom of intercourse, which took the 
form of nightly visiting. It was not indulged in with the 
specific view to marriage, but might lead to matrimony. 
Formal marriage was entered into by way of negotiations 
between the families. 

It is significant that among the tribes practicing this custom, 
which was extensive, the women were observed as in “no 
hurry to get themselves married.” They were versed in the use 
of methods that enabled them to avoid bearing children, and 
they were thereby enabled to postpone marital ties until it 
was their pleasure to settle down to formal married life. 

Here again we see the matriarchal influence of Indian social 
life. The women were not the property and pawns of the men, 
to be disposed of at their will. With respect to the sexual 
freedom permitted the women, this also is characteristic of 
the matriarchal traditions wherever they prevail in primitive 
society. The women have a sexual freedom under the rule of 
mother-right that is comparable to that enjoyed by the men 
under patriarchal rule. 

It was the custom among all the North American Indian 
tribes for a man, when he went out on a prolonged hunting 
expedition, to arrange for a young woman to accompany 
him, both for sexual companionship, and also to assist him 
with the carrying, cooking and preparation of the products 
of the hunt. The woman received an equitable share of the 

Trial Marriage 285 

profits, and the whole transaction was on a mutually advan- 
tageous business basis. Upon the conclusion of the expedition, 
the temporary association was terminated without obligation 
on either side. 

The aboriginal Indian commonly passed through many mat- 
ing associations, most of them temporary arrangements to meet 
certain contingencies in his active life. There was no formal- 
ity either in forming the temporary union, or in parting. It was 
the understood folkway of Indian tradition. One early 
explorer reported : “They laugh at Europeans for having only 
one wife, and that for life; as they consider that the Great 
Spirit formed them to be happy, and not to continue together 
unless their tempers and dispositions are congenial.” 

Among the Lolo of Upper Tonkin a form of experimental 
mating is indicated by a girl spending one night with the 
suitor at his house. She then returns to her own home and 
continues a life of sexual freedom. If in the course of time 
she goes back to her suitor in a pregnant condition, she is 
received as his wife, although he fully realizes that he is 
unlikely to be the father of the child. If she does not return 
to him, the betrothal lapses. 

It might be said that premarital pregnancy in most primi- 
tive tribes (unless they are under patriarchal influence) is in 
no way a reflection upon the character of the girl, and docs 
not adversely affect her chances of marriage. On the contrary, 
it may well make her a more desirable wife — ^because she has 
demonstrated her fertility. 

The Rev. Mcrolla da Sorrento wrote that the natives of the 
lower Congo were accustomed to cohabit with their wives 
for some time before they married them, “to try if they could 
like them, anti after the same manner the wives experimented 
with their husbands.” 

286 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

At Quoji on the West Coast of Africa, it was customary for 
girls from the inland districts to visit the coast in quest of a 
husband. A girl would cohabit for ten days or two weeks 
with a bachelor, and then return home. If she bore a son, she 
would send a message to the man informing him of the fact, 
and, if h^was interested, he entered into negotiation with her 
parents to arrange for marriage. 

The advanced races of Mexico and South America practiced 
experimental marriage. Among the aboriginal Mexicans a 
young man would request the father of a girl to let him and 
his daughter live together for a certain period. This would be 
the equivalent of the modern courting period, and was looked 
upon as a thoroughly conventional procedure. If the young 
woman became pregnant, the man was xmder no obligation to 
marry her, and if he did not do so, the association was com- 
pletely dissolved. 

The ancient Peruvians likewise sanctioned a regular system 
of trial marriage. The arrangement was binding for a period 
of one year only. At the end of that time both parties were free 
to enter into other engagements if they chose to do so. 
Previous sexual experience was considered so essential a 
preliminary to marriage that a woman who had married with- 
out this normal requirement was not esteemed as respectably 
wedded, and she was likely to be taunted for this shortcoming 
if the marriage did not turn out successfully. 

The Indians of some of the South American countries were 
so confirmed in their adherence to the custom of prenuptial 
experiments that the Spanish missionaries lamented over their 
inability to do anything to overcome the practice. The native 
couple commonly lived three or four months together, which 
they called amanarse, that is, to habituate themselves — before 
they married. As a consequence, the first question asked at 

Trial Marriage 287 

the marriage ceremony was whether the couple were ama~ 
nados, in order to absolve them of the sin before they received 
the nuptial benediction. 

Among the Akamba premarital relations among the young 
people usually leads to marriage, but with his practical dis- 
position the native takes care to see that he gets an industrious 
wife. If his temporary mate is lazy he continues his association 
with her as long as it pleases him, but he marries someone else. 

A boy of the Munshi tribe of Northern Nigeria may live 
with a girl as her husband if he gives her mother ten cloths 
and a pig, with the understanding that any offspring of the 
union shall belong to her family, and that, unless he can 
within a reasonable time make an equivalent exchange, he 
must give up his wife. 

Trial marriage takes on a imique form among the Samoyeds 
of the Great Tundra, where the wife has a turn-in value. She 
may be returned to her parents at any time within a year, 
and the money paid for her is duly refunded. 

Trial Marriage in Europe. — So ancient are many of the 
folkways in the realm of the sexual relations that they go back 
to, and indeed are intimately bound up with, the early 
European custom of private marriage, without benefit of 
clergy, which the Church finally outlawed. But the spirit of 
the earlier informal matings remained and asserted itself in 
numerous forms of temporary unions. 

These free unions which have been widely practiced in 
many of the European countries, particularly among the 
peasantry, were essentially experimental in nature — trial mar- 
riages in fact, regardless of what term they were known by in 
their particular locality. There can be detected in them an 
element of instinctive caution against forming too hasty a 

288 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

permanent union until actual experiment has demonstrated 
the harmony or the fruitfulness of the alliance. 

The ancient and imrelenting proscription of divorce by the 
Church, which became reflected in the legislation on the 
subject in most European states, tending to make marriage 
practically, if not theoretically, indissoluble, helped to foster 
these forms of trial marriage. 

Again it must be emphasized that these folk customs met 
with the approval of the people in their time. They were 
sexual mores that had developed out of the necessities of their 
social life and experiences. These free unions were by no 
means promiscuous episodes. They demanded obligations of 
the principals. They were usually rendered legal before or 
after the birth of '1 child. Even if there was no prospect of 
children, the union generally terminated in legal marriage 
if the experiment proved that the couple were compatible 

The Custom of Trial Nights. — K very old custom of the 
Teutonic countries was known as “trial nights.” The German 
author J. Fisher, in his work Uber Probenachte (1780), de- 
scribed the practice as widespread among the peasants of most 
German commimities. He cautioned, however, that one should 
be very much mistaken if from this custom one drew the 
conclusion that the girls were lacking in womanly modesty 
and without restriction offered their favors to lovers. We are 
told that “the country girl knows just as well how to be 
careful in offering her graces and with ‘moderation spice the 
enjoyment,’ as any lady at her toilet table.” 

Trial nights might be held every night, Sundays and feast 
days and their evenings, until both parties were assured of 
their mutual fitness to marry, or until the girl became 
pregnant. Among these country people with their simple 

Tried Marriage 289 

customs it seldom occurred that a man abandoned a pregnant 
girl. Such an act would expose him to hatred and contempt on 
the part of the entire local population. 

It often happened that by mutual consent a couple separated 
after the first or second trial night. The girl thereby ran no 
risk of losing her reputation, for a new lover soon appeared, 
willing to begin a new romance with her. Only in case the 
girl had trial nights with many men without result was her 
good name endangered, as then the village people began to 
suspect there was something wrong with her in the way of 
bodily imperfection. The country people found the custom so 
innocent that often when asked by the preacher concerning 
his daughters, a farmer with a father’s pride replied that they 
had already begun to hold trial nights. 

Writing of the marital custom of Sweden, Ellen Key states 
that the majority of the population began married life with 
the free union, which is finally legalized, if successful, and 
automatically dissolved if the parties find themselves misfits. 
Failure in one trial union is not held as a moral lapse, and the 
individuals make another alliance in the hope of finding a 
partner who will prove satisfactory for permanent marriage. 

Engagement, according to Swedish law of 1734 — which was 
based on the amatory customs of the country — ^was equivalent 
to marriage if the woman became pregnant. It was stipulated 
that marriage should then43e concluded by proper ceremony, 
but even without that formality the woman was declared to 
be the lawful wife of her paramour, and had legal dower right 
to his property. 

Freedom of sexual relationships in Russia is an ancient 
tradition, and under the regime of the czars seems to have 
been the only freedom that did exist. It is conceded that some 
of the free unions in modern times were largely the result of 

290 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

the rigid laws against divorce. It was common for unhappy 
married couples who were unable to secure divorce, to separate 
and form new unions without legal marriage. 

In Yorkshire, England, until comparatively recent times 
trial marriage existed. The only commitment was the solemn 
declaration on the part of the groom: “If my bride becomes 
pregnant I shall take her.” 

The so-called “Island custom” of Portland, England — ^which 
is one of the most unequivocal examples of trial marriage in 
modern times — has been described in some detail in a previous 
chapter. Variations of the practice, not so clearly defined in 
many of its aspects, were fairly common in almost all parts of 
rural England. 

The French wdfking classes of the larger cities carried on 
the ancient system of free unions, notwithstanding the oppos- 
ing influences of the Latin patriarchal tradition. In the late 
nineteenth century we are informed that in an average Paris 
arrondissement nine out of ten legal marriages were the rati- 
fication of free unions, and early in the present century at 
least half of the marriages were of this kind. 

Handfasting a Scottish Practice. — Scotland, which has 
originated so many quaint customs, has made its contribution 
to trial marriage under the name of handfasting. The term 
means literally “pledging the hand,” and was the equivalent 
of the betrothal, with a good deal of the latitude in intimacies 
that went with, that status among many of the European 

In old Scotland it was only necessary for a man and a 
woman to make an oral pledge while holding each other’s 
hand, after which it was quite proper and legal for them to 
live together for a year and a day. At the end of that period, 
they could, if they so desired, be permanently married, or, if 

Trial Marriage 291 

either of them objected, the union was forthwith dissolved. 
If there was a child as a result of the union, it had to be 
..upported in this case by the one who objected to concluding 
the marriage. 

The custom has been described by James Brown, in A 
History of the Highlands (1853), as follows: “The law of 
marriage observed in the Highlands has frequently been as 
little understood as that of succession, and similar miscon- 
ceptions have prevailed regarding it. This was, perhaps, to 
be expected. In a country where a bastard son was often 
found in undisturbed possession of the chiefship or property 
of a clan, and where such bastard generally received the 
support of the clansmen against the claims of the feudal heir, 
it was natural to suppose that very loose notions of succession 
were entertained by the people; that legitimacy conferred 
no exclusive rights; and that the title foimded on birth alone 
might be set aside in favor of one having no other claim than 
that of election. But this, although a plausible, would never- 
theless be an erroneous, supposition. 

“The person here considered as a bastard, and described 
as such, was by no means viewed in the same light by the 
Highlanders, because, according to their law of marriage, 
which was originally very different from the feudal system in 
this matter, his claim to legitimacy was as undoubted as that 
of the feudal heir afterward became. It is well known that 
the notions of the Highlanders were peculiarly strict in regard 
to matters of hereditary succession, and that no people on 
earth was less likely to sanction any flagrant deviation from 
what they believed to be the right and true line of descent. 

“All their peculiar habits, feelings and prejudices were in 
direct opposition to a practice which, had it been really acted 
upon, must have introduced endless disorder and confusion. 

292 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

and hence the natural explanation of this apparent anomaly 
seems to be that a person who was feudally a bastard might 
in their view be considered as legitimate, and therefore 
entitled to be supported in accordance with their strict ideas 
of hereditary right, and their habitual tenacity of whatever 
belonged to their ancient usages. 

“Noi* is this mere conjecture or hypothesis. A singular 
custom regarding marriage, retained till a late period amongst 
Highlanders, and clearly indicating that their law of marriage 
originally differed in some essential points from that estab- 
lished under the feudal system, sceftis to afford a simple and 
natural explanation of the diflSculty over which genealogists 
have been so much puzzled. 

“This custom .was termed handfasting, and consisted in a 
species of contract between two chiefs, by which it was agreed 
that the heir of one should live with the daughter of the other 
for twelve months and a day. If, in that time, the lady became 
a mother, or proved to be with child, the marriage became 
good in law, even though no priest had performed the mar- 
riage ceremony in due form; but should there not have 
occurred any appearance of issue, the contract was considered 
at an end, and each party was at liberty to marry or handfast 
with any other. 

“It is manifest that the practice of so peculiar a species of 
marriage must have been in terms of original law among 
the Highlanders, otherwise it would be difficult to conceive 
how such a custom could have originated, and it is in fact 
one which seems naturally to have arisen from the form of 
their society, which rendered it a matter of such vital impor- 
tance to secure the lineal succession of their chiefs. 

“It is perhaps not improbable that it was this peculiar cus- 
tom which gave rise to the report handed down by the Romans 

Trial Marriage 293 

and other historians, that the ancient inhabitants of Great 
Britain had their wives in common, or that it was the founda- 
tion of that law of Scotland by which natural children became 
legitimatized by subsequent marriage. And as this custom 
remained in the Highlands until a very late period, the 
sanction of ancient custom was sufficient to induce them to 
persist in regarding the offspring of such marriages as legiti- 

Because of this social heritage of a limited free union, called 
handfasting, the tradition of non-sacerdotal marriage has been 
associated with Scotland down to recent times. The term, a 
“Scotch marriage,” was once proverbial. By the early law of 
Scotland a declaration by a couple before witnesses that they 
were husband and wife was sufficient to make them so legally. 

The custom of elopers from England going to Gretna Green, 
over the Scottish border, and there marrying according to 
Scotch law informally in a blacksmith shop, has resulted in 
giving the name of the village a special meaning in our 
language. Thus, any place that becomes well-known as a 
convenience for easy, runaway marriages is called a “Gretna 

But while the mere declaration by the couple that they were 
husband and wife was a valid marriage in Scotland, the Scots 
made one exception to the rule, namely: “A statement of a 
couple that they arc man and wife made to an innJ^eeper to 
obtain lodgings, does not prove marriage.” This may have 
been a wise precaution to prevent unintentional bigamy. 

We have seen in a previous chapter that marriage without 
the services of a clergyman was for three-quarters of the 
whole Christian era the most common form of marriage 
throughout Europe. It could truly be stated that the couple 
married themselves, by repeating the required formula in 

294 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

the presence of witnesses. This was an authentic marriagCj 
recognized as valid by the Church and as legal by the State, 
tmtil the Council of Trent, in the middle of the sixteenth 
century, made sacerdotal marriage mandatory. Thereafter 
the services of a priest were necessary to make the marriage 
valid in the eyes of the Church. It might be said, however, that 
even before the Council of Trent, the Church was using its 
influence toward this end, and many of the more formal 
marriages were performed in church or were blessed by a 
priest. But among the common people, the private, non- 
sacerdotal, or even clandestine marriage sufficed. 

Moreover, the old form of private marriage held out long in 
some sections of the Christian world, notably in Latin 
America and in Scotland. Some sects have preserved this form 
of marriage down to the present day. The Quakers, having 
no ordained clergy, allow the couple to marry themselves by 
a public declaration in the presence of the congregation. 

George Fox, the great Quaker, uttered the dictum, “We 
marry none, but are witnesses to it.” Under Quaker influence, 
the Commonwealth of Peimsylvania in 1885 passed a statute 
expressly authorizing a man and woman to solemnize their 
own marriage. 

Companionate Marriage. — ^During the latter half of the 
1920’s a nation-wide controversy took place in the United 
States over a suggested plan for solving some of the problems 
of modern marriage. The proposal, termed companionate 
marriage, was advanced by Judge Ben B. Lindsey, then of 
the Juvenile and Family Court of Denver, Colorado, as the 
result of his long experience with and intimate knowledge 
of family and marriage problems. 

It should be stated that companionate marriage is not a new 
kind of marriage, nor is it a “trial marriage.” Companionate 

Trial Marriage 295 

marriage is a legal marriage, performed like any other ap- 
proved form of marriage. Even the term is not new, as it has 
been used by sociologists for a long time to distinguish a 
childless marriage from a family marriage with one or more 
children. Judge Lindsey made these five recommendations: 

1. That there shall be a sane, clean sex education of children 
— thus creating the proper background for the future genera- 
tion; with instruction of the adolescent in the laws and nature 
of love, marriage and parenthood. 

2. Legal dissemination of birth-control information to those 
who are about to marry. 

3. Divorce by mutual consent for childless couples. 

4. No alimony as a matter of arbitrary right. 

5. The establishment of a new institution to be known as 
the House of Human Welfare. 

A companionate marriage, in brief, is a legal marriage 
entered into by two people with the intention of having no 
children for an indefinite period and in which neither would 
assume financial responsibility for the other. Should a child 
be born, however, the marriage would then automatically 
become the family marriage as we know it. The husband 
would be liable for the support of his child and wife accord- 
ing to the laws of the state in which they lived. 

Moreover, whenever the husband felt he could carry the 
financial burden, or simply when both husband and wife 
wished it, the companionate marriage could be changed by a 
mere form into a family marriage. On the other hand, if 
children did not come and each preferred to be economically 
independent, they might live out their lives together in 
companionate marriage. 


Terminus of Marriage 

Antiquitt of Divorce. — ^Thcre is every reason to believe 
that divorce is as old an institution as marriage. It is probable 
that the first divorces were just separations, as marriage itself 
was merely the mating of a couple for a longer or shorter 
period of tim^^ When the couple did not get along well 
together, they simply separated; or one or the other dis- 
appeared. The separation, or “divorce” was as informal as 
the mating, or “marriage.” 

While among the great majority of savage and barbarous 
peoples divorce is an elementary right and commonplace, 
there are some tribes reported among whom divorce is very 
rare or imknown. The Veddas of Ceylon have a proverb that 
“death alone separates husband and wife.” A number of 
authorities have testified that they act faithfully according to 
this principle. 

The Veddas are one of the few culturally low tribes among 
whom premarital chastity is strictly enforced. We are told 
that the men are exceedingly jealous of their wives, and that 
infidelity is rare, possibly for the reason, as it is stated, that 
“nothing short of murder would content the injured party.” 
Thus, in this instance, it may be said that extreme direct action 
is the factor that precludes divorce. 

It is also said that divorce is unknown among several tribes 


Terminus of Marriage 297 

in the Indian Archipelago who have been litde influenced by 
the outside world and continue to follow ancient custom. 
Divorce is rare with the Andamanese, and unknown after a 
child has been born to the married couple. The same condition 
is attributed to the tribes of the Malay Peninsula, that have not 
been subjected to alien influences, and to the Lisu tribes of 
Kuyung Kai, on the Burma-China frontier. 

With respect to the Moriori of the Chatham Islands, it is 
said that they do not have anything equivalent to a divorce 
other than the neglect shown to the unfavored wife when 
the husband was possessed of more than one. Nor is there 
divorce ‘among the Mang-Bettou— “A man simply takes an- 
other wife when he is tired of the first.” When an Uaupes 
Indian of the Amazon region takes a new wife, the elder 
one is not turned away, but remains the mistress of the house. 
In the first two instances, of course, we have a repudiation 
of the marital partner that practically amounts to divorce, 
without bothering with any formal severance of the marriage. 
Probably the marriage was informal in the first place. 

Divorce was rare among the aboriginal North American 
Indians, but most of them practiced polygyny in one form or 
another — such as sororal marriage, temporary matings, etc. 
— so that instead of divorcing an unfavored wife, they simply 
directed their marital attentions upon a more acceptable 
woman. The women were workers and an economic asset, 
so there was every incentive to hold on to them, even if one 
should prove personally or sexually unattractive. 

The alternative of divorce, as practiced by the Californian 
Wintim, was hardly an improvement. We are told that “in a 
moment of passion he may strike her dead, or ignominiously 
slink away with another, but the idea of divorcing and send- 
ing away a wife does not occur to him.” 

298 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

The Navajos recognized the right of the wife to leave her 
husband, but the influence of masculine honor in time made 
itself felt, and the deserted husband was obliged, under the 
spur of ridicule, “to avenge himself by killing someone.” 

Dworce Among Primitives. — ^Among most tribes in which 
the patriarchal influence is paramount the right of the man to 
divorce the wife is unchallenged. This applies to almost all 
societies in which marriage by capture or purchase is prevalent. 
Woman, being the husband’s property, may be disposed of, 
or discarded, at the master’s will. As a piece of property, of 
course, she has a definite value, ^nd therefore is not to be 
discarded too lightly, unless she proves utterly impossible. If 
her offense is infidelity, death, not divorce, is usually her lot, 
or she may be sold as a slave. 

Among peoples of matriarchal culture, the sexual mores are 
quite different. Divorce is more apt to be a matter of mutual 
agreement, or the wife or her family may dismiss the husband 
for almost any reason, or for no reason but the feminine whim. 

It is the custom of the Bongos, in the case of divorce, for the 
wife’s father to give back to his former son-in-law a part of 
the bride-price, usually utensils or fire-arms, which was paid 
for the wife in the first place. He may even make a total 
restitution, if the husband keeps the children upon divorcing 
the wife. This seems to be a way of indenmifying the husband 
for the burden he undertakes in assuming charge of the 
children. This arrangement is not uncommon in Africa. 

The Soulimas women have the right to leave their husbands 
to form an alliance with another man more acceptable to them, 
on the sole condition of returning to the husband the sum 
that he paid her parents when he married her. This is an 
unusual privilege among peoples practicing marriage by 
purchase, and is probably a holdover from a prior system in 

Terminus of Marriage 299 

which the mother-right prevailed. This liberty is denied the 
woman, however, if she commits adultery. Even then she is 
treated with comparative leniency. 

Practically the same custom is observed among the Fantis 
of the Gold Coast, where the woman who leaves her husband 
without a serious reason, taking her children with her, is 
required to indemnify him only with a fixed sum — ^four ackiss 
(twenty-two shillings and sixpence) for each child. 

In Polynesia the marital tie could be dissolved very readily. 
In the case of incompatibility of temper the husband and wife 
often parted by mutual accord, and all was over between 
them. However, if the wife left her husband without consult- 
ing him to take up with another man, he watched his oppor- 
tunity and dealt summary punishment upon her. 

Among the Abyssinians marriage is virtually a free union 
(although still a “marriage” in the Westermarckian sense), 
without any sanction or ceremony. Couples unite, part and 
re-unite as they feel disposed. There is no distinction between 
legitimate and illegitimate children; which means, in practice, 
that all children are looked upon as legitimate. In the event of 
divorce the children are divided — the girls going to the 
father, and the boys to the mother. 

In Hayti there is co-existent with the legal monogamic 
marriage, free vmions likened to the Roman concubinate. The 
couples so united are called “placed.” They suffer no discrimi- 
nation because of the informal nature of the union, and their 
children have the same rights as those of legally married 
persons. There are said to be ten times more “placed” persons 
than married ones. They separate less often than the latter 
are divorced, and have better morals. 

The Kabyles of Algeria demand the most rigid fidelity of 
iheir wives, who are purchased on a strictly business basis. 

300 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

and owned as any other property. The husband has the tight 
of divorcing his wife, and in doing so may follow one of two 
procedures. He may simply say, “I repudiate thee,” repeating 
the formula three times. The wife remains dependent upon 
him until he sells her. On making the sale, he must, when the 
sum is counted out, declare before witnesses that he gives up 
all rights over his wife. By this means the marriage is dissolved. 

Uncler the alternative procedure, the husband says, “I re- 
pudiate thee, and I put such a sum on thy head.” If this 
formula is likewise repeated three times, the husband is 
bound irrevocably to the divorce. By paying a fixed sum, the 
wife has the right to marry again, but the husband can 'specify 
the conditions and make the amount so excessive that it serves 
to prevent remarriage. The woman is in this case designated 
as “a prevented ■< 5 ne” {thamaouol^t'). 

When the formula of repudiation has been pronounced 
only once or twice, the husband can, by paying a fine to the 
djemda, and with the consent of the father-in-law, take back 
his wife. In doing so, however, he loses his reputation, and 
his testimony is no longer valid. 

If, after repudiation, the Kabyle woman marries again, 
and becomes a widow, the first husband can reclaim her 
without further payment. In case of proved adultery, the 
husband may send the wife back to her family, after having 
shaved her head — signifying her dishonor, which is ineradi- 
cable — and no matter how beautiful she may be, no other man 
will ever marry her. 

Dworce Among the Mohammedans.— The Kabyle divorce 
procedure shows the influence of the Koran, combined with 
ancient Berber practices. The Koran leaves to the husband 
the absolute right of repudiation. It stipulates that if the 
formula of repudiation has been pronounced three times, the 

Terminus of Marriage 301 

husband cannot take back the wife until she has been married 
to another and is again free. The divorced wife, however, is 
required to have returned to her the dower she brought with 
her to the marriage. 

The Koran also specifies that the husband shall have four 
months’ grace to retract his decision; also, if the repudiated 
wife is suckling an infant, the husband, or, in his default, the 
next heir, shall supply her needs during the two years that 
the suckling normally lasts. 

It is decreed in the Koran that repudiated wives shall not 
marry before three menstrual periods; nor shall they dissimu- 
late a ffregnancy. The Islamic law authorizes the husband to 
sell a divorce to his wife for the cession of a portion of her 

There are three graduated formulas of repudiation: (i) the 
disaffected husband simply says to the wife, “Go away,” and 
if he has said it only once or twice, he may retract his decision; 
(2) if he should say, “Thou art to me as one dead, or as the 
flesh of swine,” it is forbidden to take back the repudiated 
wife until she has been married to another, and again divorced 
or left a widow; (3) this formula is so solemn that it entails a 
separation forever; it is, “Let thy back be turned on me hence- 
forth, like the back of my mother.” 

The woman with child can be repudiated, but she has a 
right to an “allowance during pregnancy.” Custom also 
permits voluntary divorce, at the proposal of the wife, for a 
redemption paid by her to the husband. Sometimes the initi- 
ative comes from the husband, who, realizing that his wife 
desires her liberty, says to her : “I repudiate thee, if thou givest 
me this pallium of Herat, or this horse, or this camel,” as the 
case may be. In effect, this is a divorce by mutual consent, and 
the two part as friends. 

302 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

Divorce in Ancient Civilization.— The Code of Manu of 
ancient India gave the husband exclusive right of repudiation. 
While the woman had no such right for any cause, the 
husband might divorce his spouse under any of the following 
conditions enumerated in the Code, viz: 

“A wife given to intoxicating liquors, having bad morals, 
given to contradicting her husband, attacked with an incurable 
disease, as leprosy, or who has been a spendthrift of his 
wealth, ought to be replaced by another ... A sterile wife 
ought to be replaced in the eighth year; the wife whose 
children are all dead, in the tenth year; the wife who only 
bears daughters, in the eleventh; the wife who speaks with 
bitterness, instantly . . . For one whole year let a husband 
bear with the aversion of his wife; but after a year, if she 
continues to hate him, let him take what she possesses, only 
giving her enough to clothe and feed her, and let him cease to 
cohabit with her.” 

Among the orthodox Hindus, however, marriage is a 
religious sacrament which cannot be revoked. A woman 
convicted of adultery may be deprived of her status and turned 
out of her caste, but even in this case divorce in the usual 
sense is an impossibility. She is forbidden to form a new 
alliance, and often remains in her husband’s house with the 
status of a slave. This orthodox law is now often disregarded 
by certain castes, who have found the restriction too onerous 
in this modern world. 

The ancient Hebrews, as indicated in the Old Testament, 
gave the husband the privilege of divorce for such cause as 
{Deuteronomy, xxiv), “when she find no favor in his eyes, 
because he hath found some unseemly thing in her.” He 
has only to hand her a “bill of divorcement,” and send her out 

Terminus of Marriage 303 

of his house. He then may not take her again, either if she is 
repudiated by another husband or becomes a widow. 

Even at a later period when the wife acquired the right, 
theoretically, to sue for divorce the procedure required that 
the husband write her the bill of divorcement, or the get, as 
it was known, to free her from the marriage. The wife could 
never divorce the husband. 

The school of Hillel, a renowned Jewish scholar and jurist 
immediately prior to the time of Christ, maintained that the 
least reasons were suflScient to justify a man to divorce his 
wife; for example, if she did not cook his food well, or if 
he found any .other woman he liked better. The rival school 
of Shammai took the view that “a man must not repudiate 
his wife unless he find in her actual immodesty.” 

In Chaldea a man could divorce his wife merely by saying, 
“Thou art not my wife,” by returning her dowry, and giving 
her a letter to her father. If she said to him, “Thou art not my 
husband,” she might be drowned for the seditious remark. 

The right of divorce in primitive Greece was left exclusively 
to the husband who could avail himself of it freely. In 
classical Greece the right remained, but under more restrictive 
regulations. It was necessary in repudiating a wife to restore 
her dowry, or pay interest at the rate of nine oboles. Thus 
was a character of Euripides prompted to cry mournfully: 
“The riches that a wife brings only serve to make her divorce 
more difl&cult.” 

Under primitive Roman law the right of repudiation was 
likewise allowed to the husband and denied to the wife. 
“Romulus,” says Plutarch, “gave the husband power to divorce 
his wife in case of her poisoning his children, or counterfeiting 
his keys, or committing adultery, and if on any other account 

304 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

he put her away she was to have one moiety of his goods, 
and the other was to be consecrated to Ceres.” 

According to the ancient law, when the woman was 
divorced on account of a crime, she lost all her dowry. Later, 
only a sixth was withheld for adultery, and an eighth for 
other crimes. Eventually divorce by consent {bona gratia) 
became the custom, and both parties had liberty of divorce. 

Divorce evolved rapidly in Rome, and in time became very 
easy to obtain. Seneca makes reference to women counting 
their years, not according to the Consuls, but to the number 
of their husbands. Juvenal speaks of a woman who was 
married eight times in five years. Other instances are cited 
of men and women having had a score or more of spouses in 
rapid succession. It is only fair to say that these were excep- 
tional instancess'^and attracted attention because they were 

Constantine, after embracing Christianity, restricted divorce 
to such causes as: for the husband, if the wife was an 
adulteress, a preparer of poisons, or a procuress; and to the 
wife if the husband was guilty of murder, prepared poisons 
or violated tombs. Emperor Justin, in reviving the liberal 
law, stated: “If marriages are made by mutual affection, it is 
only right that when that affection no longer exists, they 
should be dissoluble by mutual consent.” 

In the latter days of the Roman Empire, before it became 
subject to the influence of the Church, woman had obtained 
imder the law an enviable position in the marital relationship, 
which was unprecedented. Marriage was looked upon as a 
sort of private partnership in which the parties were equal 
and shared all rights — z condition far removed from woman’s 
earlier status as masculine property, without any rights, which 
was still the prevailing condition in most other societies. 

Terminus of Marriage 305 

Marriage being founded on mutual affection and consent, 
the law permitted the parties the right to dissolve it when that 
affection had turned into aversion, either by consent or by 
one of them giving formal notice to the other, exactly like 
any other partnership, and no judicial or other inquiry into 
the causes of the divorce was necessary. 

Later, under the Christian doctrine of indissoluble marriage, 
and the low opinion of the female sex that was inherent in 
the dominant Pauline philosophy, the position of woman 
again reverted to its ancient lowly status of utter subjection 
by the male. It took many himdreds of years before woman 
again recovered even in part the rights, based on moral and 
legal equality, which were hers in the latter days of the 
Roman Empire. 

Among the ancient Germans and Scandinavians, the man 
alone had the right of repudiation, although divorce by 
mutual consent was permitted by the folk laws of these 

It is said that the primitive Irish made divorce unnecessary 
by instituting marriages for one year, at the end of which 
the wife could be repudiated by the temporary husband and 
even ceded to anotlier for a fresh year'. These experimental 
marriages were made and terminated at festival periods, inci- 
dent to the sowing and harvesting seasons, namely, on the 
first of May and first of November in each year. 

The Anglo-Saxons, under Kings Ethelbert to Canute, had 
formulated laws governing marriage and divorce. Marriage 
was by purchase, but the position of the wife evidently was not 
quite analogous to chattel. There was the admonition; “And 
let no one compel cither woman or maiden to him whom she 
herself mislikes, nor for money sell her; unless he is willing 
to give anything voluntarily.” 

3o6 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

Marriage by capture was penalized in the following statute: 
“If a man carry off a maiden by force, let him pay L. shil- 
lings to the owner and afterwards buy (the object of) his will 
of the owner.” 

“If she be betrothed to another man in money, let him 
make ‘bot’ with XX shillings.” 

Tlie'laws permitted divorce, apparently by mutual consent 
or upon the will of either party, usually without express 
reference to the cause, except for infidelity on the part of the 
wife. Adultery on the part of the husband was punishable 
by fine, but was in itself not a causb for divorce. 

By strict legal theory in ancient times adultery was not a 
crime which a man could commit against his wife. When 
he was punished — ^which sometimes happened — it was not 
for unfaithfulness to his wife, but for violating the rights of 
another husband. 

If the wife were guilty of adultery, however, it was not 
only groxmds for divorce, but she was subject to physical 
mutilation by forfeiture of her ears and nose. 

Divorce in the Middle Ages. — ^The domination of religion 
over marriage and divorce is a characteristic of Western 
European civilization that began during the medieval period. 
As we have already observed, marriage had been from time 
immemorial governed by the folkways of the people, and was 
not considered within the province of religion except in a 
very incidental way, until the Council of Trent made the 
sacerdotal marriage mandatory. 

Prior to that time in Western Europe, and in all other parts 
of the world, marriage was governed by secular laws and 
customs, and the dissolution of marriage was determined by 
the same principles. 

According to St. Matthew, Christ taught that a man might 

Terminus of Marriage 307 

put away his wife for adultery, but for no other reason. St. Paul 
ruled that if a Christian is married to an unbeliever and the 
latter departs, the Christian “is not under bondage.” Under 
the influence of early asceticism, however, the Church put 
marriage under increasing arbitrary restrictions; and eventu- 
ally took the position of making a valid Christian marriage 
indissoluble — ^at least after it had been consummated. 

At the same time the Church gave cognizance to a process 
by which the union — if it had been unlawful from the begin- 
ning on the ground of some canonical impediment, such as 
certain proscribed relationships, earlier engagement of mar- 
riage, or even “mental reservations at the time of marriage” — 
could be invalidated. 

This procedure implied that a marriage which really never 
had been valid was officially declared to be void. In practice 
it led to the possibility of dissolving marriages that in theory 
were indissoluble. 

Divorce Laws in England. — ^The Founders of the En gli sh 
Church, which decreed the national laws for marriage and 
divorce, were more conservative than the reform element in 
Continental Europe. Luther called marriage a worldly thing 
to be left to the state. Calvin put marriage on the same level 
as house-building, farming or shoe-making. The general 
Reformation tendency, however, was that divorce should be 
granted only for adultery and malicious desertion. A more 
liberal party, including Zwingli, influenced by Erasmus and 
leaning toward the views of Roman Imperial law, advocated 
divorce for various causes. A smaller minority, represented 
by Bucer, would permit divorce when the married couple 
ceased to love each other. 

At the beginning of the Reformation some of the leaders 
adopted the principle of self-divorce, as it prevailed among 

3 o8 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

the Jews and as accepted by some of the early Church Councils. 
Along this line Luther maintained that the cause of divorce 
itself effected divorce without the necessity of any judicial 
decree, although a magisterial order was required for re- 

The English Reformers, under Edward VI and his advisers, 
took ajiberal view of marriage and were prepared to carry 
out many desirable reforms, but the early death of the young 
King frustrated these plans. The reaction under Queen Mary 
killed off the more ardent reformers. Queen Elizabeth, who 
followed, proved equivocal and Sliberal with respect to 
marriage and divorce, and the conservative Church party 
again came into the ascendency. 

As a result qf^the English Civil War, the Puritans put 
through the marriage Reform Acts of 1644 and 1653, asserting 
“marriage to be no sacrament, nor peculiar to the Church 
of God, but common to mankind and of public interest to 
every Commonwealth,” completely secularizing the marriage 
laws. Milton’s views on marriage and his classic treatise, 
Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, doubtless did much to 
bring about this result. 

The Restoration abolished this reform, and reinstated the 
old Canon-law traditions. Once more English marriage became 
what A. P. Herbert called “Holy Deadlock.” It was not until 
the civil divorce law of 1857 th^t the legal principle of the 
indissolubility of marriage was at last abandoned. Even then 
divorce could be granted only to a husband whose wife had 
been guilty of adultery, and to a wife whose husband had 
been guilty of the same offense and certain aggravating 

The Trend of Liberal Divorce Legislation. — ^The influence 
of the eighteenth-century school of philosophy, which em- 

Terminus of Marriage 309 

phasized the concepts of human freedom and natural rights, 
led to more liberal legislation on divorce in Continental 
Europe. France, in the wake of its liberating Revolution, 
enacted a divorce law in September 1792, proclaiming in the 
preamble thereto that facility in obtaining divorce is the nat- 
ural consequence of the individual’s right of freedom, which is 
lost if marriages are made indissoluble. Divorce was granted 
on the mutual desire of the two parties, and even at the wish 
of one party on the ground of incompatibility of temper, as 
well as on many other grounds. 

This was the most radical reform in legislation governing 
the marital bonds that had been promulgated since the pass- 
ing of the Roman Empire. Some countries of the Western 
World, and some of our own states, still retain divorce laws 
reflecting the traditional ecclesiastical point of view. South 
Carolina stands unique in granting no divorce under any 
conditions, and is today the only Protestant co mmuni ty in 
the world that holds marriage indissoluble. 

Otherwise the world-wide trend generally has been toward 
a more rational divorce code. Divorce by mutual consent is 
at present permitted under certain conditions in several coun- 
tries. The Scandinavian nations were the modern pioneers in 
this respect. Nevada and certain other American states are 
nearly as liberal as Scandinavia. Under the laws of Soviet Rus- 
sia the groimds for divorce are either mutual consent of the 
parties, or the desire of one of them. 


Romantic Marriage 

Love Enters Marriage.— We cannot, of course, with our 
civilized background and cultural veneer, venture to re-enact 
in our imagination the drama of courtship and mating that 
intrigued the primordial man and maid. Our patterns of con- 
duct, our education, our conditioned impulses and inhibitions, 
preclude an understanding of the total elemental emotional 
experience of this hypothetical couple who vouchsafed us an 

We may justly and correctly infer that they were drawn 
together by the dynamic attraction of one sex for the other 
that is universal throughout nature. We may feel reverberat- 
ing in the specialized nerve centers of our being a counterpart 
of the physical upwelling that drew them into consummate 
embrace. But still we cannot visualize the psychological re- 
actions and subtle shadings of feeling that without a doubt 
accompanied the physical act. 

At a much later period in the pedigree of man we know 
that the relations termed marital were based, not on the at^ 
traction of one individual for another, or on the feeling or 
affection of one individual for another, but on violence, pur- 
chase and barter. Neither love nor romance was considered, 
nor can they be conceived as compatible with brute force, 
rapine and trading in human life on a property basis. 


Romantic Marriage 311 

These systems, which seem so remote and unreal to our 
minds, accustomed to other practices, prevailed by far the 
greater part of recorded time. What happened in the eons of 
prehistoric time during which man was on his slow, upward 
trek from sub-human divergence, we have no means of know- 
ing and it would be futile to hazard a guess. 

Even under the blighting conditions that would seem to 
stifle all tender sensibility and sentiment, we discover evidence 
of these emotions and feelings striving to assert themselves. In 
primitive Greece, which held women generally in subjection, 
and wives and daughters specifically within the confines of 
the gynacontis,' romance struggled to express itself. We find 
the names of lovers inscribed in trees — even as we do today; 
and the use of flowers is referred to as a medium of testifying 
to a love that otherwise must have remained mute. 

We have no way of knowing about the more ordinary 
methods used to signify the heart interest of one individual 
for another — when opportunity presented itself. Human na- 
ture being what it is, there must have been the impulse to 
give the sign of amatory attentiveness that needs no formal 
language to express. 

Even the very restrictions, which were formidable, must 
have been an incentive to overcome the obstacles. Often the 
obstacles were insurmountable. Nowhere was romantic inter- 
est more frowned upon than in the true patriarchal societies. 
Daughters and sons alike were under the absolute control of 
their fathers, and the latter arranged all betrothals and 

The feelings of the young people were not consulted or 
considered. The girls were usually betrothed and married so 
young that they were settled in the rigors of domestic life be- 
fore they had an opportvmity to develop romantic inclinations. 

312 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

Marriages were planned to strengthen the family position, to 
increase its economic importance, all of which helped to make 
the patriarchal father a more powerful influence in his com- 

In societies of matriarchal character and tendency — ^which 
were invariably of a lower cultural level — ^women were more 
freC;^ had greater privileges, and consequently young people 
of both sexes enjoyed much more liberty in their choice of a 
mate. The North American Indian race is the most classic 
example of this kind, among whom the amatory life of both 
the men and the women was permitted a large measure of 
satisfactory fulfilment. 

Early Love Stories Belonged to Folklore. — ^Love stories 
are not a rarity^in our cultural heritage, but they are spun from 
the warp and woof of folklore and legends. They are the 
dreams of young humanity, wish fulfilments of primitive man. 
They belong to the realm of idealization and unreality. When 
in rare instances they derive from reality, they are veritable 
tragedies of love frustrated — ^not fulfilled — as in the story of 
Abelard and Heloise. • 

The love story of a Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett 
would have been inconceivable in an earlier age. Even in that 
case a patriarchal father — the spiritual prototype of ancient 
Greece and Rome — all but frustrated the romance, and doubt- 
less would have if the couple had been less determined and 

The realistic love story, the narrative that has its counter- 
part in real life, is practically unknown before the latter part 
of the eighteenth century, and with rare exceptions it was not 
until considerably after this period that it became of impor- 
tance in literature, either qualitatively or quantitatively. 

What passed for love in antiquity, and in the medieval 

Romantic Marriage 313 

period, was either idealization or eroticism, if we can judge 
by the literature that reflects those periods, and there are still 
plenty of representative specimens. 

The imperishable masterpieces of Dante, Plutarch and Boc- 
caccio were not love stories of real life, but inspired tales that 
ranged from idealized allegories and sublimated yearnings 
to erotic episodes and amorous adventures. 

The records of the days and nights that constitute The 
Decameron are no more love stories than are the Testaments 
of Francois Villon — that engaging rogue and natural genius 
who left so stirring an account of his unquenchable and emi- 
nently readable* lechery. 

Villon did posterity a service when he penned the verses 
setting forth his vagaries, for aside from their interest as 
narrative poetry, and their value as the exhibitionism of a 
gifted knave, they throw a valuable sidelight on the manners 
of his times. Still, they are not love stories, although they were 
prompted by the only love that Villon knew, a lusty eroticism. 

Boccaccio’s fame lies chiefly in his authorship of the erotic 
classic associated with his name, into which he has crystallized 
the legends of untold generations in the form of enduring 
literature. That his work has superlative merit is best indi- 
cated by the fact that many of the great masters of the written 
word — Shakespeare, Dryden, Keats, Goethe, among them — 
have borrowed liberally from him in form, manner and matter. 
But still Boccaccio did not create realistic love stories because 
the type of human experiences which inspires them had not 
found expression in his age. 

The Development of Conjugal Affection. — It required 
the social awakening resulting from the impact of ideas of 
eighteenth-century philosophy, as inspired by the French En- 
cyclopedists, among others, to bring new values to and 

314 Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage 

enhance the sentiments of human relationship. The ideas 
were slow in germinating, but they finally penetrated into 
the social fabric and individual consciousness sufl&ciently to 
create a concept of new standards in human values. 

Always, however, there was the struggle with those who 
represented and typified the past, the bulwarks of tradi- 
tionalism; the resistance of institutions and regimes which 
had their roots in a bygone age had to be overcome. 

Nevertheless, out of this struggle of ideas there emerged 
greater freedom, tolerance, opportunity and enlightenment. 
In political life it resulted in the ..spread of democracy; in in- 
dustrial and economic life it placed a new emphasis on the 
human equation. It broadened the scope of education, reduc- 
ing illiteracy in some countries to a negligible quantity. It 
stimulated the ' physical sciences, leading to inventions and 
technical discoveries that have revolutionized the world me- 
chanically. It developed the sciences of medicine, laboratory 
research and sanitation, reducing plagues and epidemics, and 
mitigated the scourge of many dreaded diseases. Sciences 
such as jurisprudence, on the other hand, lagged behind be- 
cause they are rooted in ancient precedent, and are less re- 
sponsive to reason. 

Inherent in this philosophy which stemmed from reason, 
love of individual freedom and the humanizing of justice, 
was a concept of the integrity of the human being as such. 
Legal and soqial disabilities that had handicapped women and 
deprived them of rights and opportunities were gradually 
overcome, but always against the same type of opposition as 
in the past. 

The awakened consciousness that recognized woman in 
the abstract as a qualified human being, entitled to equality 
in the social sphere, also acknowledged increasingly the in- 

Romantic Marriage 315 

dividual woman as entitled to reciprocal rights in the mar- 
riage relationship. 

Another great forward step was made from the time when 
love meant only erotic passion. Lasting conjugal affection is 
based on esteem, confidence and respect, no less than on 
sexual attraction; indeed the former qualities normally out- 
live the latter. 

One cannot respect, honor and esteem a person of grossly 
inferior status, a submerged personality who intellectually and 
spiritually lives in a different world. Without those coalescent 
forces of reciprocity of feeling and mutuality of interest, based 
on recdgnition- of each other’s individual integrity, there is 
no foundation for a deep and lasting love. 

Conjugal affection makes insistent demands upon the 
objects of its beneficence. It requires a spirit of co-operation 
and accommodation to harmonize sentiments that otherwise 
might become discordant. It requires self-discipline and good- 
fellowship, as well as good sense, to bring into working unison 
two personalities, with their individual temperaments, tastes 
and idiosyncrasies. Based on esteem, confidence and honor, 
enthralled by the biological magnet of sexual afiBnity, conjugal 
love is the highest fulfilment of human needs, desires and 


Abelard, 312 

Adultery, wife’s only punishable, 201, 

Aeschylus, 202 

Africa, 155, 169, 190, 223, 258, 259, 
263, ^65 , 

Albanian marriage customs, 15, 240 
American Indians, did not take wives 
by capture, 243; divorce among, 297; 
fulfillment of amatory life, 312; mar- 
riage by purchase, 259; marriage 
customs, 16, 45, 48, 82, 174, 243, 
252, 271; polygyny among, 214, 221, 
284; trial marriage among, 281 
Anglo-Saxons, marriage customs, 36, 43; 
marriage by capture, 306; marriage 
by purchase, 4 

Animals, living in monogamous pairs, 
5 , 93 

Animism, 97 

Arabians, ancient, 19, 42, 137; limited 
marriage, 281; made devotions by a 
kiss, 58; Mazeyn, 254; their contri- 
bution to culture, 113 
Asceticism, Mohammedan reaction to, 

Assam, marriage customs, 178, 189, 270 
Attila, 49 

Australian, aborigines, 59, 89, 146, 170, 
217; infant betrothals, 219; marriage 
customs, 1 21, 227, 266; runaway 
marriages, 253; taboo on menstrua- 
tion, 1 17; taking women by force, 
241, 242; the sororate, 222 

Bachofen, J. J., 6, 173 
Barrett, Elizabeth, 312 
Bastian, Adolf, 6, 82 
Bcntham, Jeremy, 120 
Best man, 35, 256 

Betrothal, at birth, 24; child, 154, 157; 

infant, 154, 155; ring, 26 
Beweddung, 261 

Birds, highest form of paired mating, 3 
Block, Iwan, 7 

Blush, sanction of modesty, 137 
Boccaccio, 313 
Borneo, 61 

Boulting, William, 276 
Brazilian Indians, 226, 268 
Breaking dishes, symbolism of, 41 
Brehm, 3 

Bridal customs, 30; flowers, 37; pro- 
cession barricaded, 248; showers, 31, 
37; veil, 32 

Bride, carrying away, 256; cutting hair 
off 34; giving away, 10; knights, 36; 
of Christ, 32; price, 260, 263, 272 
Bridegroom, traditions of, 35 
Bridesmaids, 33 

Briffault, Robert, 191, 195, 222, 230 
Britain, ancient, 4, 42, 80 
British Guiana, 268 
Brother-in-law complex, 15 
Brown, James, 291 
Browning, Robert, 312 
Bulgarians, 50 

Bundling, a custom practised in many 
lands, 67; called queesten in Holland, 
77; declined with social disapproval, 
70; known as night-running in Nor- 
way, 77; in Colonial New England 
and Atlantic areas, 67, 70; in Britain 
and Northern Europe, 74, 280; Irving, 
Washington, quoted on, 71; not a 
proof of licentious manners, 70; prac- 
tised among rustics, 69; Scotch vari- 
ety, 74, 77; similar customs practised 
by early Christians, 75; survival of 
feudalism, 74; tarrying, a variation, 
73 » 74 ; Welsh mode of courtship, 75 




Burns, Robert, on kissing, 63 
Butler, Samuel, 15 
Byron, Lord, on the kiss, 54 

Capture, marriage by, 238-256, 306; 
ceremonial, 250; mock, 246, 249; sur- 
vivals of, 255; symbolized, 255 
Caribbean Indians, 16, 243 
Carrying bride over hearth, 10 
Casanova, 137 
Castration, loi, 236 
Cato, 2c^ 

Celibacy, a concept of higher civiliza- 
tion, 224; rare in primitive life, 221 
Chastity, among uncivilized peoples, 
135* 296; girdles, 149; magical virtue 
of, 140; masculine, 143; padlocks of, 
149; sanction of modesty, 137 
Childbed, taboo of, 118 
Child betrothal, 154; to preserve chas- 
tity, 157 

Child marriage, 154; among Eskimos, 
156; antiquity of, 162; evil effects of, 
163; factors responsible for, 163; in 
Europe, 166; in indiU, 158; supersti- 
tion as incentive, 159 
Chile, 241 

China, marriage customs, 40, 44, 92, 
129, 260, 269; the kiss among, 59 
Church fathers, views on marriage, 108, 


Circumcision, 89; analogous ritual for 
girls, 90 

Colonial customs, 67, 277 
Companionate marriage, 294, 295 
Concubinage, 233, 299 
Conjugal affection, development of, 

313-3 15 

Constantine, 304 

Continence, among primitives, 145, 146; 

Buddhistic vow of, 147 
Corinthians, 108 
Courting-on-the-bed, 280 
Courtship, far-reaching import of, i; 
short history of, 2 

Couvade, the, 15; origin of term, 15 
Cross-cousin marriage, 225 
Crusades, 38 

Customs, ancient, modern survivals of, 
23; echoes from the past, 23 
Cutting bride’s hair, 34 

Dante, 313 

Defloration, artificial, of marriageable 
girls, 17 

Demosthenes, 204 
Deuteronomy, 102, 107, 2^3, 241 
Diodorus, i88 

Divorce, among ancient Jews, 303; Mo- 
hammedans, 300; the Hmdus, 303; 
primitives, 298; antiquity of, 296; 
Chaldean, 303; Church laws on, 288; 
in American States, 309; in ancient 
civilization, 302; in modern times, 
308; laws in England, 305, 307; lib- 
eral legislation, 295, 308; under 
Roman law, 303 

Dowry, 30, 274; earned by prostitution, 

Droit du seigneur, 210 
Drydcn, 313 

Duan Gircanash, old Irish poem, 239 

Ecuidor Indians, 268 
Egyptians, ancient, 34, 42, a8l; matri- 
archal influence upon, 185, 187, 195; 
mythology of, 81; trial marriage 
among, 282 
Ellis, Havelock, 53 
Elopement, 252 

Endogamy, marrying within the clan, 
42, 123 

Engagement, ring, 26; tokens of, 25 
England, ancient, 40, 261, 262, 273; 
Church of, 262; medieval customs, 
39, 48, 68; taking women by force in, 
239; wedding cake originated, 49 
Erasmus on divorce, 307; on kissing 
in England, 56; on nakedness in 
Heaven, 139 

Eskimos, 53, 118, 123, 127; exchanging 
wives among, 84; marriage customs, 
249, 270; trial marruge among, 281 
Eunuchs, 236 
Euripides, 202 
Evil eye, 238, 248 
Evil spirits, protection against, 118 
Exchange, marriage by, 265 
Exogamy, marrying outside the clan, 

Fatherhood, ignorance of role of, 174 
Fidelity, wife’s only striedy enforced, 

Fiji Islands, 92, 217, 243 
Fisher, J., 288 
Flower girl, 38 

Flowers, bridal, 37; symbolism of, 38 
Fox, George, 294 



France, chastity belt in, 150; free unions 
in, 290; shivarec originated in, 51; 
wife purchase, 5 
French Revolution, 13, 212, 309 
Frigga, 81 

Gandhi, Mahatma, 160 
Garter, bride’s, 38 
Genesis, quoted, 25, 187, 267, 268 
Genghis, Khan, 223 
Gift, morning, 274 
Gifts in courtship and marriage, 44 
Girdles of Chastity, 149; American 
counterparts, 151; day belts used in 
Pennsylvania, 152; used principally in 
Italy, Spain and France, 150 
Giving the bride away, 10; symboll2Jcd, 

Goethe, 313 
Gonds, 245 

Greeks, marriage* customs among, 39, 
261; dowry, 274; gynacontis, 202, 
235> 31 1; patriarchy, 201, 202 
Greenland, 249 
Gretna Green, 293 
Grimm, Jacob, 210 
Groomsmen, 35, 256 
Group marriage, 80 

Hammurabi, Laws of, 276 
Handfasting among Scottish High- 
landers, 77, 280, 290 
Harem, 234 

Hebrews, ancient, 99; divorce among, 
302; polygyny among, 215; weddmg 
canopy, 43 
Hcloise, 312 

Hcmitic women, supremacy of, 190 
Herbert, A, P., 308 
Herodotus, 81, 132, 188 
Highlands, A History of the, 291 
Hindus, child marriage among, 158; 
divorce among, 302; marriage cus- 
toms, 103; marriage brokers, 164; 
marriage by capture, 246; religious 
cults, 103 
Hippocrates, 38 

Holland, 68; bundling in, 77; marriage 
customs, 248 
Homer, 202, 234 

Honeymoon, the, 49; origin of, 49 
Hope chest, 31 
Hornaday, 94 

Iliad, 233 

Illegitimacy, 199, 201 

Incest, 120 

India, 85, 88, 93, 103, 105, 254; child 
marriage, 158; couvade, 151; dancing 
girls of, 106; marriage customs, 269 
Indo-Chma, 269 

Infant betrothal, 154; before birth of 
child, 155 
Infanticide, 169 

Infibulation, among primitives, 153 
Intercourse, prenuptial freedom of, 284 
Ireland, ancient, 16, 26, 40, 76; bride- 
price in, 262; Dmn Gircanash, 239; 
mock capture of bride, 249; taking 
women by force in, 239 
Iroquois Indians, 48, 174; Long House, 
182; matriarchal influence upon, 178; 
matriarchate, 180; tribal communism 
among, 181; women held equality 
with men, 184 
Irving, Washington, 71, 72 
“Island custom” of trial marriage, 75, 

Italy, 148, 277; marriage customs in, 
248; women in, 276 

Jacob, 267 

Japan, ancient, customs of, 15, 34, 45, 
92, 269 

Jewish law, 272 

Jews, ancient, marriage customs of, 
272; match-making among, 21 
Joseph, 25 

fudges, Book of, 240 
Jus primae noctis, 199, 210 

Keats, John, 313 
Kept women, 234 
Key, Ellen, 289 
Kiltgang, 280 
King, Major Ross, 82 
Kiss, the, 53; among animals and birds, 
54; as sacred pledge, 58; as expres- 
sion of love and affection, 53; as form 
of oath, 58; erotic, 61; Hollywood, 
64; Judas, 65; love-, 53; maternal, 53; 
nuptial, 55; olfactory or smell-, 59, 
61; origin of, 53; platonic, 65; pledge 
of love, 55; prelude to love-making, 
61; royal, 57; tactile, 58; unknown to 
Eastern Asiatics, 53 

Kissing, as a pastime, 63; by corre- 
spondence, 66; custom of Western 
World, 53; games, 64; prohibited on 
Sunday, 148; the foot, 58, 262; the 
hand, 58 



Koran, the, 130, 172, 235, 273, 301 
Kropotkin, Peter, 5 

Laban, 267 

Laplanders, observe Asiatic kissing cus- 
toms, 59 
Leah, 267 

Leviratc, marrying deceased brother’s 
widow, 107, 215, 224 
Leviticus, 102 
Leybard, 56 

Licentioiii orgies as ceremonials, 87 
Lindsey, Judge Ben B., 294, 295 
Livingstone, David, 138, 179, 219 
Lombroso, 138 

Love, early, belonged to folklore, 312; 

-bite, developed from the kiss, 62 
Lubbock, Sir John, 6 
Luther, Martin, 12, 307 

Magic significance attributed to certain 
customs, 85, 126 

McLennan, J. F., 6, 123, 17c, 173, 238, 

Malinowski, B., 157, 174, 219, 283 
Mana principle, 115 

Manu, Laws of, 103, 129, 273; on ab- 
duction of maidens, 246; on child 
marriage, 160; on divorce, 302 
Manus, 206 
Maoris, the, 117 
Marco Polo, 83 

Marriage, affect of industrial civilization 
upon, 166; among the Arabs, 19, 42, 
137, 281; among early Christians, 
108; among the Hebrews, 99; among 
the Mohammedans, iii, 113, 261, 
263; antiquity of, 2; arranged by go- 
betweens 18, 164, 175; by capture, 
238-256, 306; by elopement, 252; by 
exchange, 265; by purchase, 4, 23, 
257-278; by rape, 240; by service, 
266; ceremonial, 9; circumcision as 
a prerequisite of, 89; civil, 13; com- 
panionate, 294; consanguineous, 82; 
cousin, 123, 225; definition of, 2; 
experimental, 286; group, 80; History 
of Human, 2; incestuous, 112; love 
enters, 310; matrilocal, 178; mock, 
88; morganatic, 25, 274; multiple, 
213; prehuman equivalent of, 3, 93; 
primitive, 79; rings, 28, 261; roman- 
tic, 310-315; runaway, 253; sacer- 
dotal, 12, 306; self -performed, 37, 
294; terminus of, 29^309; tree, 88; 

trial, 279-295; with sisters and 
cousins, 83 

Match-maker, the, 18, 175 
Maternal family, 173 
Mating, paired, among animals, 3, 93 
Matriarchy, or mother-family, 1 73-1 93; 
among Iroquois Indians, 174, 178; 
conducive to equal rights, 175; de- 
scent reckoned through mother, 174; 
divorce in, 298; favorable to women, 
190; in Egyptian history, 185, 187, 
195; in process of disintegration or 
transition, 192 
May Day, 86 
May pole, 86 

Mexico, ancient, 146, 275, 286 
Milton, John, 38, 142, 308 
Modesty, sexual, 120; as consequence of 
fca», 135; charm of, 139; expression 
of erotic impulse, 1^9; timidity of the 
body, 136; as allurement, 139 
Mohammedans, divorce among, 300; 
marriage customs among, 111-113, 
261, 263, 272; match-maker, 79 
Monogamy, the trend to, 7, 215 
Montaigne, 57, 139 

Moral code, dual, 215; originated in 
patriarchal society, 204 
Morgan, Lewis H., 6, 82, 83, 175 
Morning gift, 274 
Morocco, 85 

Moslems, contribution to civilization 

Mother-right, passing of, 192 
Muller, Max, 187 

Multiple marriage, many types of, 213 
Mythological lore, 81, 91, 131, 201 

Nansen, 249 
Nayars, 120, 231, 232 
New Britain, 122, 2^5 
New Caledonia, 24, 108, 145, 146 
New Guinea, 156, 243, 266, 283 
Night-running, a form of bundling in 
Norway, 77, 280 
numbers. Book of, 241 

Oath, taking a, 58 
Odin, 81 

Odyssey, 202, 233, 234 
Old Testament, 25, 100, 197, 201 
Olfactory, or smell -kiss, 59 
Orange blossoms, as a symbol, 37 

Patria potestas, 208 

Patriarchy, or the father-family, 194- 



212; a sirikin^y feature of Semitic and 
Roman societies, 198; based on rec- 
ognition of superior rights of prop- 
erty. 198; began an age-old dis- 
franchiscmenf of women, 197; 
evolved from nomadic shepherds. 194; 
fell with rise of industrial age, 21 1; 
fostered double standard of morality, 
200, 204; Greek, 201; Hebrew, 197; 
passing of, 21 1; paternal power in, 
208, 31 1 ; rise of, 194; Roman, 204; 
Russian, 199 

Pennsylvania, chastity belts used in, 

Peru, trial marriage in, 286 
Pharaoh, 25 

Philippine Islands, 244, 270 
Phoenicians, 16, 132 
Piets, in Ireland, 239 
Plutarch*, 251, 30^, 313 
Polyandry, 80, 191, 229, 231; fraternal, 

Polygamy, iii, 213 
Polygyny, 214; primitive, 216 
Polynesia, 53, 59, 89, 115, 123, 299 
Potiphar’s wife, 187 
Prettum pirginitatis, 274 
Promiscuity, 79 

Prostitution, temple, 16, 105, 132; 

dowry earned by, 16 
Psalms, quoted, 42 

Purchase, marriage by, 257-278; by in- 
stallment plan, 263; common among 
early Britons, 261; considered most 
desirable, 258; influence on frequency 
of marriage, 260 

Purdah, veiling or seclusion of women, 

Purity, white as a symbol of, 153 

Quakers, 37; self-performed marriage 
among, 294 

Quecsten, bundling in Holland, 77, 280 

Rabelais, 150 
Rachel, 267 

Rape, among Australian aborigines, 241; 
cases cited in Bible, 240, 241; mar- 
riage by, 240; of the Sabines, 240; 
the tribe of Benjamin, 240 
Read, Win wood, 95, 190 
Reformation, 307 

Religious marital ideas, primitive, 97; 
animism, 97; Christianity, 108; Hin- 
duism, 103; Judaism, 99; Mohammed- 
unism, in 

Rice, symbolism of, 39 
“Right of first night,” 199, 210 
Ring, diamond, 153; engagement, origin 
of, 25; finger, 29; joint, 28; wedding, 

Romantic marriage, 3 10-3 15 
Rome, ancient, 58, 86, 198; concubi- 
nage, 233, 251; coemptio, 207, 251; 
confarreatio, 48, 207, 251; dos, 275; 
dowry, 274; goddesses of fertility, 
86; Laws of the Twelve Tables, 206; 
manus, 206; marriage customs, 33, 
206, 251; marriage restrictions, 125; 
patria potestas, 206; patriarchy, 204 
Runaway marriage, 253, 258 
Russia, old, marriage customs in, 143, 
148, 198, 260, 262, 289; Soviet, di- 
vorce in, 309 

Sabines, in primitive Rome, 205; rape 
of, 240 

St. Matthew, quoted, 306 
St. Paul, views on marriage, 108, 109 
Scandinavian marriage customs, 289 
Scotland, ancient customs, 16, 40, 68, 
74, 76; handfasting in, 77, 280, 290; 
kissing customs, 55; mock capture of 
bride, 249; rights of feudal lords, 21 1 
Scott, Sir Walter, 211 
Seneca, 304 

Serbia, marital customs, 15 

Service, marriage by, 266 

Sexual communism, 228; crises, ii6; 

taboos, 1 15 
Shadchans, 21 
Shakespeare, 313 
Shivarcc, 50 

Shoe, throwing the, 42; symbol of, 42 
Slav marriage customs, 14, 240 
Simians, family life among, 93 
Simon ben Shatach, 273 
Solon, 204 
Sophocles, 202 

Sororatc, marrying sisters, 221; among 
American Indians, 222 
South African customs, 268, 270, 286 
South American tribes, 16, 223 
Spain, proofs of chastity in, 143 
Sparta, 36 

Spencer, Herbert, 170 
Stiles, Henry Reed, 72 
Stillborn, evil omen of, 119 
Stocking throwing, 38 
Strabo, 81, 153, 192 
Sumner, W. j., 75, 99, 195 
Superstitions, weddmg, 46 



Suttee, burning or sacrifice of widows, 
90; in ancient European lore, 91 
Swedish customs, 289 
Sympathetic magic, 85, 140 

Taboos, 1 15; blood, 116; childbed, 118; 
food, 1 1 7, 126; incest, 120, 122; 

meaning of, 115; menstrual, 117; 
mother-in-law, 122; of women, 116; 
sex, 1 15; varieties of, 116; widow 
marriage, 128 
Tacitus, 274 

Tarrying, a variety of bundling, 73, 
280; preliminary to marriage, 74 
Taylor, Sir E. B., 15 
Temple prostitution, 16, 105, 132 
Ten Commandments, 100 
Testament of Judah, 17 
Tibet, 230, 245 
Tod as, 18, 231 

Trent, Council of, ii, 12, 112, 294; 
made sacerdotal marriage obligatory, 
12, 306 

Trial marriage, 279-2^$; among primi- 
tives, 281; ancient forms, 279; in 
Egypt, 282; in Europe, 287 
Trial nights, 288; in rural New Eng- 
land, 290; in Scotland, 290; well es- 
tablished in Teutonic lands, 280 
Trobriand Islands, 157, I 74 » 219, 283 
Trousseau, origin of, 31 
Turkey, 235, 263 
Tylor, 91 

Unchastity, magical danger of, 147 
Veddas, 296 

Veil, bridal, 32; purdah, 93 
Venus, 38, 132, 203; Mcdicean, 136 
Villon, Francois, 313 

Virginity, infibulation to insure, 153; 
sacrifice of, to gods, 16, 105; sacrifice 
of, to stranger in temple, 132; sub- 
mitting proof of, 143 
Virgins, dedication to divinities, 131; 

Sun-brides of Peru, 140; Vestal, 140 
Virtue, 140 

Visiting, night, 280, 284 
Voltaire, 152 

Wallace, Alfred Russel, 04 
Wed, the, or purchase money, 4 
Wedding, announcements, •ji; cake, 40, 
48; canopy, 43; miscellaneous cus- 
toms, 36; origin of word, 4; ring, 27; 
superstitions, 46 

Welsh customs, ancient, 68, 76, 147, 

Westermarck, Prof. Edward, 2, 3, 4, 6, 
9, 79, 80, IQ9, 226 229 
White, as symbol of purity, 153 
Widow sacrifice, 90; marrying tabooed, 
128, 162 

Witchcraft, 16, 118 

Wives, captured, evidence of valor, 244; 
custom of exchanging, 83; taking by 
force, 241, 244 

Women, as chattel, 100, 197; con* 

sidcred unclean, 101; deification o^ 
130; fear of, 117, 131; purification 
of, 102; supernatural powers attrib- 
uted to, 13 1 ; perpetually a minor, 208 

Yorkshire, trial marriages ia, 290 
Yucatan Indians, 268 

Zambezi, 179 
Zoroaster, 161 
Zulus, 218, 223 
Zunis (Pueblo tribe), 176 
Zwingli, 307